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Jan 6, 2009
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Now that 2009 has been solidly launched, we have a chance to catch our breath and look ahead at the kind of foods we'll want to eat in the coming year.  There are three factors in particular that we'll be taking into account over the course of the coming months.  Number one: economy.  No, we won't be dining exclusively on beans and rice, and we'll definitely splurge from time to time on fabulous wines and luxury food products.  Overall, however, in these perilous economic times we'll be more aware than usual of price tags as we do our grocery shopping.  We'll also try to be conscientious about the nutritional value of the foods we eat.  While we have no plans to eschew butter, red meat, cream or other such epicurean delights altogether, we will strive to be reasonably careful in balancing our meals with plenty of foods that are noteworthy for their high-octane fiber, vitamin and protein content, as well as low fat and modest calorie readings.  Most important, we want to eat foods that are utterly delicious.  Steamed mussels meet all these requirements, so they seemed like a good dish with which to begin 2009.

Like clams, mussels are bivalve mollusks.  They usually have shiny blue-black shells with plump, pale orange-ish flesh inside.  Mussels are an excellent source of vitamin B-12 and Selenium, and a good source also of Zinc and Folate; they contain virtually no fat, and are low in calories and strong in protein.  They are simple to prepare and relatively inexpensive.  We paid less than $20 for a pot-full of mussels that served four people as the main course of an informal dinner.  (Two loaves of good French bread, the makings for a big green salad, and a simple dessert added only a few more dollars to the total food bill).  Most important, our mussels were lip-smacking, finger-licking tasty.

These mussels also proved to be a good match for a variety of white wines.  We opened twelve bottles, and our panel of four tasters agreed that only a scant handful really didn't work with the dish.  Among them was a sparkling wine whose overt sweetness overwhelmed the inherent delicacy of the mussels, a California Chardonnay with a heavy-handed dose of wood flavor, and an otherwise excellent Sauvignon Blanc whose bold grassiness was too much for the shellfish.  Had we followed a recipe that called for more spice in the preparation, some bigger, more aggressive and even sweeter wines might have proved good partners.  But with our milder, classic version of steamed mussels, balance and a modicum of restraint were the qualities that best suited the dish.

STEAMED MUSSELS

Serves 6 as a first course, 4 as a main course

6 pounds mussels

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 shallot, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

One teaspoon dried thyme

½ cup dry white wine

Juice of one lemon

One cup chicken stock

¼ teaspoon curry powder

One tomato, peeled, seeded, and coarsely diced

½ cup minced parsley

Place the mussels in a colander and rinse under cold running water.  Put the olive oil in a pot large enough to hold the mussels; add the shallot, garlic and thyme and cook over medium heat until the shallots have softened.  Pour in the wine, lemon juice, and chicken stock, and as soon as the mixture has come to a boil add the mussels.   Cover the pot, turn the heat up to high, and cook, shaking the pot from time to time, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mussels open.  Stir in the parsley and tomatoes, give the pot a good shake and leave it on the heat another half minute or so.   Pour the mussels into a serving bowl and pour the sauce over them. 

If you have any food and wine pairings that you think are outstanding, or if you've encountered any glaring mismatches, we'd love to hear from you.  Drop us a line at winewith@winereviewonline.com

 

 

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

 

William Fevre, Chablis (France) "Champs Royaux" 2007

(Imported by Henriot, Inc.)

 

 

 

$25

 

A consensus winner with the dish, this Chablis tasted crisp and steely, with sufficient fruit not to be overshadowed by the mussels, but not so much as to prove overwhelming.  The wine is tasty enough on its own, but it really starred when paired with this dish.

 

 

 

K Vintners, Columbia Valley (Washington) Viognier 2007

 

 

 

$20

 

Not as opulent or floral as many Viogniers, this harmonious wine seemed almost too fruity and rich for the mussels, but its balance made it a favorite.

 

 

 

Joseph Phelps, St. Helena-Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2007

 

 

 

$32

 

The wood in this barrel-aged Sauvignon Blanc proved distracting, even over-bearing when the wine was tried on its own, but it almost magically faded into the background when the wine was sipped with the mussels.  It was a real surprise.

 

 

 

Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley (Washington) Dry Riesling 2007

 

 

$12

 

A great value, this wine showed two real virtues with the mussels' crisp acidity and genuine varietal flavor.  We suspect that sweeter Rieslings would not fare as well.

 

 

Tablas Creek, Paso Robles (California) "Côtes de Tablas Blanc" 2007

 

 

 

$25

 

A Rhône-style blend (28% Viognier, 25% Marsanne; 20% Roussanne, and 17% Grenache Blanc), this wine is certainly full-flavored and weighty.  But because it tastes so dry, with earthy undertones enhancing its fruit, and no overt sweetness, it paired very nicely with the steamed mussels.