Behold... Blue Cheese Mussels.
The most famous recipe within my group of friends.I was first introduced to this delicious dish in 2010 by my friend Katie (who had been introduced by her childhood friend Maggie). We were young college-aged women living the foodie scene in Chicago, hungry for experiences and the next best restaurant. And yet, what we loved most about the food scene in Chicago was the one we created in our own apartment's galley kitchen. We'd sit atop the washer and dryer, which was conveniently wedged between the window and dishwasher, and create. We'd create food and laughter and joy. With each new recipe came a new opportunity to hit this trifecta and to build our little community of gals stronger. We were immediately struck by how simple this recipe was and yet how special it felt. It created something so much stronger than just a meal. This is now my entire cooking and food philosophy: Make food approachable, yet slightly unique, enjoy it with your people and forget about everything else. This is where the most satisfying - both literally and figuratively- food experiences will be found. I imagine this recipe has travelled from inbox to inbox, family to family, friends to friends and to yet more friends. It's just that good.
Well, I've since moved to Maine, where the food scene has an emphasis on all things local. Local farms, fishermen, producers and proveyors. In fact, my very first encounter when moving in Maine from NYC was with the man I had hired to help me unload my uHaul. He was actually a lobster fisherman. He unloaded my furniture, gave me his card, and an official warm welcome... which was of course the promise of wholesale lobster-by-the-pound. I remember thinking to myself and laughing, "wow, welcome to Maine". The point is that everything is just totally community driven here. So when my friends at Allagash Brewing Company (a Portland institution) invited me over for a tasting and a conversation about well, beer and food, we immediately started to talk about how communities and relationships are built over a good meal or an ice cold beer, and preferably both. We talked about the beauty of buying local Maine grown produce because of the quality, yes, but also because supporting our community is just what we Mainers want to do. I mean they would know, they buy over 7,000 lbs of local raspberries used to age beer spontaneously fermented from naturally occurring airborne yeast each year (holy local). I closed out the meeting feeling inspired to share this recipe that is so deeply rooted in my food philosophy, because it's basically everything they stand for, too.
So off they sent me with a case of different beers and a mission to taste-test the best beers to pair with this famous recipe. I gathered fresh-caught mussels from Free Range Fish & Lobster down on the wharf, popped into my local market and grabbed locally grown tomatoes and shallots, and even a local blue cheese called Bradbury Blue. Ethan and I invited my parents over, made a lovely Made in Maine meal, and tested beers and mussels until we couldn't possibly test another bite. We had a wonderful time and enjoyed it all from comfort of our backyard.
A few notes before you get started in on this recipe:
Buy the mussels day of if possible from a fishmonger, local fisherman, or your trusted grocery.
Don’t skip the filtering process on the mussels, no one likes to bite into even the smallest piece of sand.
I’ve intentionally left salt off of the ingredient list. The blue cheese will give this dish all the salty flavor necessary. However, if you feel it needs a touch of brightness, you may not have had a juicy enough of a lemon. Go ahead and add more fresh lemon juice.
Don’t forget to add the blue cheese in two parts, this is really key for flavor and texture.
Aleppo pepper is becoming more common to find on grocery shelves, but don’t stress if you can’t find it on your first trip, red pepper flakes will do the trick.
I’ve never regretted buying an extra loaf of bread to soak up the delicious broth, but I have regretted buying too few.
pecial thanks to my friends at Allagash Brewing Company for helping bring this post to life!
Blue Cheese Mussels
- 3 lbs fresh caught mussels
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp salted or cultured butter
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 4 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
- 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped or 1 small can of diced tomatoes, drained
- 2/3 c white table wine, I used a pinot grigio
- 1 large lemon, juiced
- 1/2 lb Bradbury Blue Cheese (Winter Hill), crumbled and split into two portions
- Handful fresh parsley, cleaned and roughly chopped
- 1 tsp Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes if it’s what you have
- 2 loafs (if you’re being honest with yourself) of Sourdough Boule, sliced and toasted with a brush of olive oil and a heavy pinch of flakey salt
- 1. To prep the mussels: Place mussels in a colander and remove any that are open (even in the slightest). Debeard and gently scrub with a scour brush, then rinse. Place the cleaned mussels in a bowl and fill with cold water and a handful of ice cubes and let sit for 20 minutes (not any longer). The mussels will filter out any sand. Once the mussels have filtered, place them back in a clean colander and lightly cover with fresh ice and a damp towel until ready to use.
- 2. In a large, deep pot heat oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook for 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes.
- 3. Add wine and lemon juice, stir and bring to a high simmer/just to a boil. Bring the temperature down a little and add the first half of the blue cheese and the mussels and cover. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until the mussels have opened wide.
- Carefully transfer everything into a serving dish and evenly sprinkle remaining blue cheese, parsley, and pepper flakes.
- Serve with toasted bread and plenty of napkins.
Yield: 4-6 servingsPrep Time: 00 hrs. 30 mins.
Cook time: 00 hrs. 10 mins.
Total time: 40 mins.