When I was a teenager I worked in a bustling seafood restaurant right in the harbor in my hometown, Santa Barbara, California. I loved going to work, not just for the extra spending money, rather because it was so beautiful to walk all the way down the harbor every afternoon to get to the restaurant. The boats on the water, the seagulls squawking, the smell of the ocean air – I loved it. After a little while at the restaurant, having worked my way up the ranks from host then to fighting to be a busgirl (they got much better tips – how dare they only let the boys get that job!), I finally earned my server badge.
One day in my first week or two of serving (maybe I hadn’t gotten much sleep, or at least that’s what I tell myself), one of my guests asked me “how are your muscles?” Please note that reads “muscles” and not “mussels.” At least that’s how I heard the guest ask the question. After a long pause, I answered something along the lines of, “good, I guess I’m pretty strong…?” The blank look on the man’s face triggered the sparks in my braincells to finally re-ignite and I quickly tried to recover with, “…just kidding! They’re New Zealand green-lipped mussels and guests rave about them.” I’m sure that man didn’t buy my attempt to recover from one of my most embarrassing moments to date. I know this, since as luck would have it, incredulously, that guest was a food critic and wrote about that exact moment in his review. Oops. I can now happily say that my muscles are sort of strong (I can do a whopping 3 whole chin ups and 10 real/non-girly push-ups), but more importantly, when it comes to Bleu Cheese Mussels, they are also strong – strong in flavor.
It took a few attempts to balance the flavors to the point where I’m confident that you will croon over these Bleu Cheese Mussels. Though the recipe is made of elements that are each strongly flavored while standing alone – shallots, garlic, white wine, lemon, bleu cheese, and bacon – the combination results in a well-balanced broth that leaves all of the elements tied for first-place for strength of flavor. Even if you aren’t a lover of bleu cheese, you’ll still be happy because it isn’t over-powering at all. Trust me, these mussels will have you sopping up every last drop of the broth with a crusty sourdough roll. Try them. I think you’ll be impressed.
- 2 lbs. mussels
- 5 oz. bacon, sliced into ¼” strips
- 7 large shallots, sliced into thin rings (in a pinch, you can substitute a small red onion for the shallots)
- 4 small garlic cloves, minced
- 2/3 c. dry white wine (buy something decent enough that you’ll want to finish the bottle)
- 1/3 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used 1½ fresh lemons)
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- ¼ c. bleu cheese crumbles
- 2 packed cups baby spinach
Unlike for hipsters, beards are not desirable for mussels so start by de-bearding the mussels and rinsing them in cold water. Remove any that are cracked or that do not tightly close when you squeeze their shells together. In a pot with a large opening, cook the bacon to your preferred crispness over medium-high heat. Remove from pan leaving the residual fat, and set aside. Add the sliced shallots to the pot. Cook for 5-7 minutes until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and brown for 1 minute. Increase to high heat. Add the white wine, lemon juice, kosher salt, and bleu cheese crumbles. Scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil. Carefully add in the mussels, and quickly place the spinach on top of the mussels. Put the lid on. After about 3 minutes, remove the lid to see if any mussels have opened. If so, remove the opened mussels and set aside. Replace the lid, hold the lid on tightly, and gently shake the pot to redistribute the mussels in the pan (so you don’t overcook those that were on the bottom). After about a minute, check to see if they have opened. Repeat every minute or so, removing those mussels that have opened each time. All mussels should open within 3-5 minutes. Add your bacon and removed mussels back into the pot. Gently stir to coat in broth. Distribute the mussels and broth evenly into bowls. Serve with a fresh toasted sourdough roll or baguette.