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Sep 27, 2011
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Wine With . . . Mussels with Coconut Sauce and Chive Rice Pancakes


by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

Nutritious, inexpensive, quick and easy to prepare, mussels are an ideal food in so many ways. Relatively mild flavored, they’re adaptable to being combined with any number of different herbs, spices and seasonings--and that, of course, will influence which wine will be best enjoyed with them. We are very partial to this version based on coconut milk, with an intricate mélange of fresh herbs adding complexity to the dish.


Good steamed mussels characteristically leave an abundance of delicious soupy-sauce in the bottom of the bowl that can be either spooned up or sopped up with bread. We hit on the idea of nestling a rice pancake in the bowl before ladling in the mussels; it serves as a sauce-soaked dividend to savor after the last mussel has disappeared. Many variations on this theme are possible. For example, you might substitute a thick piece of grilled or toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. Or if you’re making the mussels in an Italian tomato-based sauce, why not tuck a little polenta into the bottom of the bowl?


Mussels with Coconut Sauce & Chive Rice Pancakes


Serves 2-4


For the Mussels:

2 pound mussels

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

1 jalapeno or poblano pepper, finely minced

1 tablespoon each minced fresh basil, cilantro and mint

1 clove minced garlic

1 teaspoon grated ginger

¾ teaspoon salt

1 ¾ cup unsweetened coconut milk (one 13.66 ounce can)

1 cup water

For the Pancakes:

2 cups cooked rice

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

1 tablespoon olive oil


(The pancakes should be prepared ahead of time so that they can firm up in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight, before baking.)

Scrub the mussels, pulling off any beards if necessary. Put the olive oil in a large, deep pot and cook the onion and pepper over medium heat, until soft. Stir in the fresh herbs, garlic, ginger and salt, and continue cooking, over low heat, another 5 minutes. Pour in the coconut milk and water. (The sauce may be made ahead to this point.)


When ready to cook the mussels, simmer the sauce for five minutes, stirring once or twice. Add all the mussels and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened.


To make the rice pancakes, stir together all the ingredients except the olive oil. Use the oil to liberally grease a small low-sided baking pan. Spoon four pancakes onto the pan—the mixture will be very loose, but it will thicken and hold together during baking. When ready to bake them, preheat the oven to 400°. Bake the pancakes for 15-20 minutes, turning them once.

To serve, place a pancake in the bottom of each bowl, and spoon the mussels and sauce over them.


* * *


This was a trickier dish to pair successfully with wine than we expected. The sauce is somewhat sweet, but the presence of the onion, peppers, and of course the mussels themselves renders it quite savory as well. It’s also simultaneously rich and delicate. Too big a wine can overpower it, but a very gentle one can get lost. The wines that performed best all tread a somewhat narrow middle ground. None shows overt oak flavor, but while some exhibit sweetness, others taste legitimately dry. We liked both types, since ultimately the issue of sugar proved less important than the wine’s being fresh and lively. When all is said and done, that’s what the five we’re recommending have in common.


Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Domaine Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley (Washington) Blanc de Blancs NV

$12

Crisp and refreshing, this bubbly tastes of autumn fruits with a faint echo of toasted coconut, something that helped it pair especially well with this dish. That sweet note in the wine’s finish never interfered with the flavors of either the mussels or the sauce, but instead harmonized smoothly with them

Lícia, Rias Baixas (Spain) Albariño 2010

(Imported by Winebow Brands International)

$16

A fairly light-bodied rendition of this Spanish white wine favorite, Lícia’s Albariño tastes of stone fruits with a seductive floral note in its bouquet. That hint of springtime freshness helped it mesh nicely with the coconut milk in the sauce. Albariño almost always works well with cooked shellfish, so this pairing’s success came as no surprise.

Morgan, Monterey (California) Un-oaked Chardonnay “Metallico” 2010

$20

Genuinely dry, this charming Chardonnay offers pure fresh fruit flavors. When paired with this particular dish, it served as something of a foil, its dry finish counter-acting the lingering sweetness from the creamy sauce.

Quivira, Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County (California) Sauvignon Blanc “Fig Tree Vineyard” 2010

$18

One of the better California Sauvignon Blancs we’ve tried recently, this wine exhibits true varietal flavor without being overly aggressive or forward. When enjoyed with this particular dish, it was content to remain in the background, adding new flavors but not overwhelming those from the food.

Santa Julia, Mendoza (Argentina) Torrontes 2010

(Imported by Winesellers Ltd.)

$10

A light, almost lacy example of Torrontes, this wine offers the grape’s characteristically floral and sweet muscat-like aromas, followed by fruity but truly dry flavors. That combination of alluring sweetness but a dry finish was precisely what made it such an attractive partner with this sweet but at the same time very savory dish.