CHILLI MUSSELS…a find on the last vacation we went on. We spent a few days in Western Australia’s city of PERTH where because of a recommendation from Australian travelers we met in Bali we learned of these Mussels in a Tomato, Hot Pepper, and Wine Sauce. Sounds like Mussels Fra Diavolo? Sounds like a typical ItalianAmerican seafood dish? Since I’ve come back from vacation I’ve been trying to see where this dish originated. I’ve found out a few things. You can find them all over Australia, yet on line research always points to Perth and Western Australia. Australia’s proximity to Asia had me thinking these were possibly an Indonesian or Thai or Chinese style of mussels. No. They are decidedly Mediterranean in their style and flavor. Are they different from ItalianAmerican mussels in hot pepper spiked tomato sauce? When That bowl was placed infront of us in Western Australia’s seaside town of CERVANTES my head said..oh, it’s our Fra Diavolo with an Australian name. Sitting in the CERVANTES BAR AND BISTRO after a full day of driving up the coast I can tell you I was in for a great culinary surprise. These had a bit of sweetness to them. I detected maybe sugar in the mix. There were fresh sliced chile peppers in the mix. Aha. That’s it. Quite possibly with Australia’s large Italian Immigrant population this was a creation made by them with some changes as often happens in immigrant communities. There’s a style of cooking called AustralianItalian, just like we have ItalianAmerican in the States. Now you’ll say, what’s the difference??? Why would the dried chile pepper flakes (peperoncino) taste different than the fresh. Well…taste both for yourself. There’s a difference. And this is not a one is better than the other conversation, this is me telling you my foodcentric friends that there’s new dishes to be had when you change an ingredient. Fresh Chiles is possibly more Asian in it’s flavor profile. It’s a bit fruity. There’s a texture the ItalianAmerican mussels don’t have. It was amazing. Travel Food surprises are always welcome. Simply switch out fresh chiles for the peperoncino, add a pinch of sugar, or brown sugar and you’ll get the chilli mussel experience. Most important, use mid sized fresh mussels. Those enormous Green ones don’t work here. For a recipe, since I’ve not made my own version of them yet, here’s a link from Australia’s great Travel magazine, GOURMET TRAVELLER. I fell in love with this magazine after my daughter bought me one for the beach while we were there.
MUSSELS!!!! Inexpensive and Delicious Mussels are a way of life here on the Eastern Seaboard. I live in an area where they are literally scattered all over the beaches so we grew up eating them, pulling them off of the seaside rocks and pilings, or buying them in all the seafood markets and supermarkets. Fresh live Mussels are very available. Oh yes, there’s also the frozen ones sold but there’s nothing like eating one that was live only moments before you are eating it. They are salty…they taste like the ocean….and they come in different sizes. My preference? Thanks for asking. SMALL. Tiny is tastier. The meat is sweet and in two bites you’re done. For this recipe look for the Black Mussels in the net, usually on a pile of ice. They are live. They are probably from Prince Edward Island or somewhere else in the North Atlantic. Today’s mussels are cultivated in the wild or wild caught. Wild Caught need some additional cleaning, the cultivated not so much. There are also larger black ones or the New Zealand Green ones (like at the Chinese buffet restaurants). I can’t. Too big. That’s alot of mussel you’re trying to chew, no thanks. BUT, i’m putting that out there because YOU may want to make this recipe with the large mussel. Hmmm., to each their own, but i’ve never stuffed the larger ones so I’m not sure of the cooking time on them. COZZE GRATINATE is Italian for Mussels stuffed with Breadcrumbs and baked or cooked under a broiler. Like baked Clams Oreganata, same dealio. A few years ago in my home kitchen i was tooling around with my usual Mussels Oreganata and decided I want to stuff these mussels differently than I stuff my clams. That’s how it happens. You find a new recipe..or you use your food knowledge to come up with something new. Now I didn’t invent the Stuffed mussel but this is my own version of the stuffing. It’s quite orange in color. I add San Marzano tomatoes that get pureed then added to the stuffing mix. You’ll love it. Let’s make Stuffed Mussels!!
SERVES : 4-6 TIME: about 1 hour
1 1/2 CUPS COARSE ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS
2 FINELY MINCED GARLIC CLOVES
2 TBS FINELY MINCED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY
3 TBS PECORINO ROMANO
1/2 TSP. PEPERONCINO
PINCH OF SALT
PINCH OF OREGANO
3 TBS PUREED SAN MARZANO TOMATOES or ITALIAN PLUM TOMATOES
2 TBS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
For the Breadcrumbs…Saute’ the garlic in 1 tbs of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Add the Breadcrumbs and toast this for about 2 minutes, then Add the tomato, cook for 2 minutes longer and place in a bowl. Add all the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Reserve for stuffing the mussels.
2 lbS. CLEANED ATLANTIC BLUE MUSSELS, LIKE PEI MUSSELS, SCRUBBED AND DEBEARDED
2 TBS. WHITE WINE
2 TBS OLIVE OIL
1 GARLIC CLOVE, SLiGHTLY BRUISED
Pre heat oven to 475 degrees. Place mussels in a wide pan. Add the olive oil and white wine, and the garlic clove. When the steam starts to come up from the pan gently add the cleaned mussels and cover the pan, shaking it gently every few minutes. Check to see if the mussels are starting to open.. When they are just starting to open up remove them from the pan and take off the empty side from the shell. Arrange the mussels in a baking pan. Drizzle the juice from the mussels in the pan over the mussels on a 1/2 shell. Then top each mussel with the Breadcrumb and tomato mixture. Place into the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until they look toasty on top. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. They are just fantastic!!!!