Mussels are pretty much my default shellfish. They're easy to cook, easy to eat, and taste of little more than the sweet, briny ocean. Because mussels are such a blank canvas, it's a breeze to dress them up however you see fit. Ben Sargent's Mussels Fra Diavolo from his new cookbook, The Catch, are an excellent example of the form. The usual diavolo players (chili flakes, tomatoes, white wine) are present, but it's the uncommon addition of roasted garlic that makes the dish memorable.
Why I picked this recipe: Mussels are an easy go-to dish; adding chili and roasted garlic only makes them more tempting.
What worked: The roasted garlic was a standout here, adding additional sweetness and depth to the spicy broth.
What didn't: The recipe doesn't mention to mash up the garlic once it comes out of the oven, but then refers to it as puree. I just gave it a good smush with the olive oil before stirring it into the broth.
Suggested tweaks: You could use this recipe to steam clams, or a mixture of clams and mussels. If you're not into spice, you can cut back on the chili flakes as you see fit. (It will no longer be fra diavolo, but it'll still taste great.) The recipe is also easily cut in half if you're only serving a couple people.
Reprinted with permission from The Catch: Sea-to-Table Recipes, Stories & Secrets by Ben Sargent with Peter Kaminsky. Copyright 2013. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- 2 large heads garlic, top quarter cut off
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon chile flakes or 1 habanero chile, finely chopped
- 3 large plum tomatoes, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 4 pounds mussels, scrubbed
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley
- Toasted baguette slices, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the garlic in a small baking dish, cut sides up, and drizzle the cut sides of the garlic with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Cover and bake for about 1 hour, until very soft. Squeeze the soft garlic from the papery skins into a small bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
In a large pot, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the scallions and chile flakes, and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cover, and cook until the tomatoes dissolve, about 4 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the garlic purée and the wine.
Bring the scallion-garlic mixture to a boil and add the mussels. Cover and cook, shaking the pot a few times, until the mussels open, about 5 minutes. With a large slotted spoon or Chinese wire strainer, lift the open mussels from the pot and transfer to serving bowls. Discard any mussels that do not open.
Remove the pot from the heat. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and add the basil. Pour the sauce over the mussels and serve right away with toasted baguette slices.