This dish saw its first light when a line cook—drawing on the traditional combination of saffron and mussels, but wanting something new that reflected the current interest in Indian food, the Far East, and Mexico—made curried creamed mussels with a cilantro pesto drizzled over the top. It was fantastic. This recipe, however, is less rich, and less complicated since you cook the ingredients together all at once.
Mussels vary in size, but twelve to fifteen per person should do for a first course. One often hears that mussels still unopened after a brief cooking are no good, or downright dangerous, as in dead. I have always seen those as the ones hanging most strongly onto life. It is the floaters (when washing them) or any that gape and don’t close when handled that should be discarded. You can store the mussels in salted water after cleaning them, but “bearding” kills them, so do that as close to cooking as possible. Scrub the mussels and then just before using them, beard them by pulling off the piece of mussel hanging outside the shell.
If you don’t have a cataplana (a Spanish, tin-lined cooking vessel, which looks and operates like a big clamp, hinged at one point), which I don’t expect anyone to have, just use a covered thin metal saucepan. The point is for the mussels to cook very quickly, and then be presented in the pot (since the finished sauce is made there) with all their steamy perfumes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Put the mint, olives, orange juice, and oil in a food processor and puree until just a bit of texture remains. Spread the bread with the puree, and bake for 10 minutes. Keep warm.
If you are using a cataplana: put all the ingredients for the mussels except the mayonnaise in the cataplana, and clamp down the lid. Cook over high heat on top of the stove for 7 to 8 minutes, shaking the cataplana three or four times. Open carefully at the table, check for seasoning, stir in the garlic mayonnaise, and serve with the hot olive toasts.
If you are using a saucepan with a lid, combine all the ingredients except the mussels in the pan and cook covered over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the mussels and cover the pot tightly. Cook over high heat, shaking the pot every minute or so, until all the mussels open, about 5 minutes. If 1 or 2 mussels are reluctant to open, don’t overcook the others while waiting for those to cook—just pry them open with a knife. Take the lid off the pot at the table, check to see if the broth needs salt, stir in the garlic mayonnaise, and serve with the hot olive toasts.
© 2002 Jeremiah Tower. All rights reserved.