This post shouldn't be going up now.
...but it is. Because if I don't write this now, I'll forget about what I wanted to say (sometime next week) and I'll end up hating myself for procrastinating.
You see, this was supposed to be another happy, jolly post about my Les Halles series and how wonderful and delicious mussels were. Maybe I would've added in something here and there about how mussels are usually "allowed to wallow in their own foul-smelling piss in the bottom of a reach-in" at restaurants as a tribute to Kitchen Confidential and from experiencing mussel-derived food poisoning first hand. But it isn't - this post is about eating alone. (Just scroll down to where it's bolded if you don't want to read any of this for the recipe)
Fellow food blogger and health care provider Mark (No Special Effects) wrote a great post about eating alone and being a strong proponent of it earlier this week. I eat by myself (and dine by myself) all the time and like Mark - I don't find it wrong or humiliating at all. I've gotten used to it, living by myself and being (probably) the only person out of my friends who's pretty much obsessed with food. Medium pork? Offal? Eating at shady places? Eating actual sushi that doesn't come in a ridiculous roll (re: Ru San's) with an equally disastrous name? That's me. But a lot of times, it's hard to find people to tag along with me in my college town.
Don't get me wrong - I like company and it can get lonely at times (especially dining out). There have been moments where I thought "man, this is kinda sad" as my waiter/waitress refilled my water glass but looking back - it wasn't so bad. Okay, wait a sec. I know what you're thinking - I'm just clinically depressed, a loner and I need to go make friends right? Despite being shy in nature, I'm a happy guy, I have an awesome family, stellar group of friends and life's good - really good of late. But I also enjoy the experience - the moments - of being by myself, enjoying (usually) delicious foods and just having personal, reflection time. Maybe it seems weird or crazy to some people but I wouldn't have it any other way. Hell, I'm gonna go eat by myself in about 3 hours for dinner and you know what? - I'm perfectly fine with it.
I usually don't write stuff like this on the blog. I try to keep it focused on food and only food but this blog is a personal space for me. It's almost an extension of myself, a place where some facade isn't needed between people and a place where I can write - pretty much - whatever I want. I mean, who reads this shit anyways besides me?
So, I guess you're really here for the recipe anyways right? (...or the food porn). Cooking mussels is simple business - you dump'em in and they tell you when they're done by opening up. There's a lot of ways you can cook these things and my mom makes a spicy version using sake, stock and gochugaru. Okay, what I'm trying to get at here is that cooking mussels is easy and versatile. Don't leave it up to the restaurant chefs and make it yourself at home.
When you're buying mussels, the fresh ones should feel heavy, smell like deep seawater, be tightly closed and shiny. If your mussels are light, hollow, smell like rotting fish and open they're no good - throw them out. Just before cooking them, give them a good scrub in cold water and leave them to drain in a colander. You do NOT want them in a bowl, sitting in whatever liquid that may accumulate at the bottom. Are they still closed after you cook them? Throw it out because you don't want to spend a night in front of the toilet. Trust me - I've been there and it's not fun.
Mussels are great as a meal for one because you can buy as many or little as you want from the fish monger and it doesn't really have a recipe. Remember my last Les Halles post about not being constrained by the recipe? Mussels are a great example of that. You don't need to use the exact amounts the recipe calls for and you can pretty much eyeball everything as long as you follow the flavor profile.
For the moules marinières, slice some shallots - 1 should do for one to two people. Throw a knob of butter into a large pot with a lid and once the foam subsides, throw in the shallots. Cook for a couple of minutes until the shallots are soft and slightly browned. Add a good splash of wine, about a cup or so (like I said, eyeball it. It'll be okay - trust me) and bring it to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Once the wine comes to a boil, throw in the mussels, season again with salt and pepper and slap the lid on. Hold the lid firmly with one hand and just shake the pot so the mussels turn around - just like a dryer. After a minute or two they should all be open. If not, just slap the lid back on and shake again until they all open. No cooking time needed, just use your eyes. Throw in a chiffonade of parsley and another knob of butter to finish it off and give it another good shake. Transfer to a bowl and eat with some nice, crusty bread.