02 April 2012

Food Lab 15: Moules et Frites

I know it's been two months since the last Food Lab, but in our defense, this one got rescheduled twice, and even with all that, the IAs weren't able to join us. It's been a busy spring.

Speaking of spring, I can think of few better ways to spend a lovely spring day than hitting the Maine Avenue fish market with Mad Kitchen Scientist, Chef Spouse, and the Executive Committee, buying several bags of mussels, heading home via Sapore, where we picked up truffle oil and truffle salt, and then labbing them up with frites and several takes on aioli.

Speaking of the frites, Mad Kitchen Scientist had rendered some beef tallow, which he brought to add to our typical peanut oil deep fry. Chef Spouse claimed he couldn't taste the difference, which I think is mad - there was a DELICIOUS difference. Sure, beef tallow's probably not all that healthy, but then again, fries aren't exactly arugula salad to begin with, and since when has "healthy" been a criteria for Food Lab (never, just in case you haven't been paying attention)?

But the real stars of the day, other, of course, than the truffle oil, were the mussels. I've eaten the delicious bivalves many times, but this was my first time making them. I did all the de-bearding, and that was an interesting process. Many of the mussels, which were resting in a bowl of cold water, were very slightly open. As soon as I started messing around with the beards, they all, to coin a phrase, clammed up tight. It was slightly disconcerting to be reminded that, although they weren't nearly as feisty as last weekend's blue crabs, those mussels were still very much alive.

We decided that four mussel preparations would likely get us into enough trouble. We chose:
  1. Traditional white wine, cream and herbs (in our case, shallots, garlic, parsley, tarragon and bay)
  2. Traditional tomato base (to which we added shallots and garlic, parsley, bay, oregano, capers and olive oil)
  3. Fennel (with white wine, garlic, bay, a sweet/hot red pepper, and butter to finish)
  4. Asian (with garlic, a sweet/hot red pepper, cilantro stems, ginger, scallions, and a combo of mirin, rice wine vinegar, sriracha and chicken stock for the liquid)
In the first round, it was traditional cream versus fennel. The traditional cream won, although we were all surprised at how tasty the poached fennel was.

The second round was tomato base versus Asian. We agreed that that tomato base would make an EXCELLENT pasta sauce (in fact, we couldn't finish them all, so we removed all the remaining mussels from their shells, dropped them in the tomato sauce, and guess what Chef Spouse and I will be having for dinner tonight or tomorrow?).

The shocker was the Asian mussels. It might have been the tasty, tasty rooster sauce, but we could not get enough of the broth.

Oh, and I should point out that making mussels could not be easier. Debeard them and stick them in a bowl of cold water while you prep whatever ingredients you want to use for the sauce (make sure you include enough liquid to cover however many mussels you have in the pot you'll be using). Bring your sauce ingredients to a boil, skim the mussels out of the water (so all the sand they dropped stays the bottom of the bowl), and drop them in your boiling sauce. When they open up, they're done, so take them out, boil the cooking liquid/sauce down a little more, pour it over the mussels, eat.

Now Chef Spouse is not a huge shellfish/bivalve guy, so he was mostly excited about making aioli.

The first batch did not turn out. To say the least. We had curdled salad dressing. Even starting over with a new egg yolk and using the bad batch as the oil didn't help. We had three theories as to why: eggs too cold, too high a percentage of extra virgin olive oil, and we put the citrus in too late. Mad Kitchen Scientist pointed out that, while the egg might have been cold when it first went in the container, as soon as we started working it, it was no longer cold. Chef Spouse made an all extra virgin olive oil version later to test that theory, and it came out fine (other than tasting REALLY strongly of olive oil), leaving us to conclude that you MUST put the citrus in with the egg yolk right at the beginning.

We also made 4 versions of aioli:
  1. Traditional (and whisked by hand) - egg yolk, lemon, garlic, salt, half and half mix of canola and olive oils
  2. Truffle - like the above, but substituting in 1 tsp truffle oil for an equal amount of the olive oil
  3. Saffron - this was the one with 100% extra virgin olive oil, plus a hearty pinch of saffron threads that had been reconstituted in hot water (you bung in the water and the threads)
  4. Sriracha aioli - egg yolk, lime instead of lemon, 1 clove of garlic, an equal amount of ginger, salt, all sesame oil and, at the very end, a generous shot of rooster sauce
The hand whisked version was creamier, but the others (all done with an immersion blender) were fluffier. The truffle aioli was excellent on the fries. But once again, rooster sauce won the day. Oh rooster sauce, how I love you.

Now all this aioli left us with quite a few egg whites, so of course we made some Ramos gin fizzes (and thank goodness our favorite liquor store started carrying orange flower water, because ordering it online was a pain). We decided our unofficial motto is: "No egg white left behind!" But mostly what we drank was Belgian beer. What else, right?

1 comment:

shoegal said...

Sounds heavenly! Some of the tastiest mussels I ever had were in a cream-based lemon grass sauce in Australian wine country (OK, the setting was spectacular too). And I'm a fool for Arucola's white wine with basil, italian parsley, garlic and hot pepper flakes version. And I just had a cream-based curry version at Bistrot du Coin which was nice too.