Tomorrow is Father’s Day and I would like to salute all the Fathers and Grandfathers out there who put food on the table, offer inspiration to young boys and men, the comfort and security to daughters and grand-daughters, regale us with tall tales, wisdom and humour.
Chances are the man in the house will want a big, fat juicy steak or some other HE-MAN dish that will satisfy the latent caveman in him. The grills will be lit up, smoke will waft up from many a backyard and the sound of sizzling meats can be heard. Today I want to put the “surf” in the surf n’ turf. A surf n’ turf offering combines both meat and seafood. The usual pairings are a steak and lobster tail or steak and shrimp. I’m going to suggest another offering…mussels on the grill.
Cooking over an open fire or pit has to be one of the oldest methods of cooking and if you look at annual gas and charcoal grill sales, still one of the most popular. From ancient times, Greeks were grilling fish and meats on open fire and cooking on an open fire also incorporated using a thin metal sheet to act as a heat conductor is centuries old (consider the Pontian Satz).
For today’s recipe, I used an old roasting pan that is now dedicated to the gas and charcoal grill use. You may also use an aluminum disposable roasting pan or an old cast-iron skillet. This dish is a two-step recipe where we first grill an array of vegetables and then add the mussels, herbs, some booze and cover and wait for the mollusks to open up and in the end tell us “EAT ME”!
What makes these mussels smoky is that we’re grilling the vegetables first and then adding them on top of the mussels to soften, release their juices and combine with the liqueur from the seafood. When grilling vegetables, I chose the ones that are succulent, bring lots of flavour to the table and the slightly charred veggies will give your mussels that hint O’smoke.
There are some tomatoes and garlic also in the mix and they get added into the roasting pan just before the mussels are added. Greek flavours like fresh oregano and thyme are added, a generous shot of Ouzo and some dry Greek wine are all added to make a simple yet wonderfully delicious sauce. I add some homemade breadcrumbs at the end for a little crunch and simply empty on a large platter with homemade crusty bread and bowls for the empty shells.
It’s not too late to go grab some live mussels for tomorrow: rinse them, pick out and discard any broken ones, tap any open ones and if they don’t close, throw those out too! Remove the beards of the mussels with your fingers and scrub any shells that look dirty. Rinse well, place in a colander with a bowl underneath to catch any water and place in your fridge for up to one day until you’;re going to cook them.
Grilled Smoky Mussels
(appetizer for 4-6)
1 kg. of fresh mussels, rinsed, scrubbed and debearded
1/2 cup of olive oil
2-3 slices of red peppers
2-3 slices of green pepper
2-3 slices of onions
1-2 hot peppers (whole)
2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
3-4 whole cloves of garlic, smashed
4-5 stems of fresh oregano
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 good shot of Ouzo
1 cup of crumbled Feta cheese
1/2 cup of coarse bread crumbs
coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- Assuming that you have already cleaned and debearded your mussels, take out of the fridge and place in a bowl with enough cold water to cover them. Add some corn flour (not corn starch) into the bowl and shake to help dissolve it. The mussels are still alive and as they breath, they will spit out any remaining sand inside the shells, which will cling to the corn flour and sink to the bottom. Rinse and set aside.
- Pre-heat your gas grill to high and brush the grill surface until clean. In a bowl, add your slices of peppers, onions, scallions and whole hot peppers along with a glug of olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat and reserve. In the meantime, have your diced tomatoes and garlic in bowl, crumbled Feta, wine, Ouzo, olive oil and herbs ready and on a tray for you to easily bring out to your grill. You will need grill tongs, kitchen scissors, oven mitts, the roasting pan and your platter.
- Place the vegetables on the grill and cook for 2-3 minutes a side or until just charred. Remove and place back in the bowl. Now you may place the roasting pan onto the direct heat of the grill and allow for it to warm up for 3-4 minutes. Using your kitchen scissors, snip the scallions into 1-inch pieces and reserve in the bowl (leave the hot peppers whole so the dish doesn’t become too hot).
- Add the olive oil to the roasting pan and after a minute, add the diced tomatoes and garlic and allow them to cook for a minute or two. Now add the mussels on top, followed by the grilled vegetables, the wine and Ouzo and top with the fresh herbs. Spread the ingredients out so they are even. Now you need an old metal kitchen bowl and place on top of the mussels and lower the cover on your grill.
- Cook the mussels in your grill for about 6-7 minutes or until the mussels have opened up. When all the mussels have opened up, put on your oven mitts and pick up the hot roasting pan and empty the mussels and vegetables into your platter. Sprinkle with the crumbled Feta and bread crumbs and garnish with thyme and oregano from the garden.
- Serve immediately with some crusty homemade made bread and serve immediately. Enjoy with a Hatzimichalis Chardonnay.
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