Posts Tagged basil
Steamed mussels are an amazingly easy dish. With the increasing popularity of rope-grown mussels, they’re also surprisingly available and inexpensive. Rope-grown mussels tend to have less grit in them than wild-caught, and are more sustainable.
Mussels are best cooked live in a quick steam, though I’ve also cooked them in the smoker (which was delicious, if quite different than steamed). The heat causes them to open their shells, making them easy to extract and eat. You don’t want to eat a mussel that doesn’t open on its own, or one with a broken shell (broken either before or after cooking). A fresh, live mussel will snap closed if you run fresh water over it, and you should throw away any raw mussels that remain open after rinsing. Check the dates on the packaging and only buy mussels from stores whose seafood departments you trust, and you should end up with very few “dead soldiers” in your kitchen trash can.
This version of steamed mussels is one of my favorites. Here’s what you’ll need to serve two people:
- 2 lbs raw mussels
- 1 cup fresh basil (I used a mix of Thai, lemon, and Italian)
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 3 cups white wine (1 750 ml bottle)
- 1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
- Salt to taste
- Crusty fresh bread
Start by checking over your mussels. Use a pair of kitchen shears or needle-nose pliers to remove any “beards” that remain on the outside of the shell. Rinse off any visible dirt.
Combine the basil, broth, wine, and tomatoes in a large stock pot and bring them to a boil, stirring frequently. Allow to reduce by 2/3. Turn the heat down to medium-high and drop a steamer basket or colander down into the pot. Gently pour your mussels into the basket and lid the pot. A glass lid is useful here because you can see when the mussels begin to open. This should only take a few minutes. Don’t overcook your mussels! They turn tough very easily.
Once the majority of the shells have opened, remove the steamer basket (carefully!) and let the broth stay on the heat while you check over the cooked mussels. Discard those that haven’t opened.
Arrange the mussels in a bowl or soup plate and pour the cooking broth over top. Serve with a few slices of bread and provide a bowl for discarded shells. A narrow fork is the best way to remove the mussels from their shells.
A pound of mussels per person is enough to make this a full meal, or you can serve these as an appetizer in smaller portions. They’re also great over pasta.
I finally found a use for the overabundance of herbs in my garden – I couldn’t use them all up before we start getting freezing temperatures, but I hated to just let the leaves wither in the cold.
Wound up making wreaths with them, and they look very festive and pretty. They also smell nice, as does the entire first floor of the house where I made them – my friends host a craft night. Unfortunately the straw forms I used irritated the fuck out of my skin, but I rubbed on some Benadryl cream and it should be fine.
The best part is that because I didn’t use any glue or chemicals, once these dry out I can still use the herbs to cook with.
I had enough sage to do an entire 8″ wreath entirely out of it. I don’t use sage much in my cooking, so the fact that my sage plants exploded was a source of chagrin for me.
I made these after reviewing some various instructionals online. Basically I took two 8″ wreath forms and wrapped them slightly loosely with thin floral wire. I gathered the herbs into small bundles and wrapped the stems in masking tape – I tried using floral tape, but honestly that stuff sucked.
Once the herbs were bundled, I simply slipped the taped ends under the wire, working in a gradual circular motion around the form and angling the bundles. Then I looped a heavier aluminum wire around to create a hanger.
Here are the final products:
This one is a mixed bundle of herbs – peppermint, Kentucky Colonel mint, Thai basil (purple flowers), Italian basil flowers, rosemary, lemon thyme, and oregano.
This one is the all-sage wreath.
Both were hung on the door of our 40%-scale TARDIS for their photos:
It was a really easy little craft project. I would say it took me about half an hour to bundle all the herbs, and then about an hour to assemble each wreath. Probably would have been faster if I had had the slightest clue what I was doing.
I chose the straw forms over the styrofoam ones because I thought it would look more organic, but it made kind of a mess (straw bits everywhere) and, as I mentioned, it made me very itchy. Maybe next time I’ll stick with the foam.
Anyway, these need to dry out for a couple of days, and then one is going on the front door. I’ll probably end up gifting the other.
If you watch cooking shows, they always have big, beautiful bunches of fresh herbs to work with. You and I both know that’s not always how it is in our own kitchens – even if you have an herb garden, maybe you got home after dark and don’t want to go out with a flashlight, or it’s been too dry or too cold for it to produce. If you don’t grow your own herbs, you have to buy them, and this can get expensive. Plus, fresh cut herbs don’t keep all that well, so ideally you should buy them the day you’ll use them, and it’s just not convenient to hit the store every day. Dried herbs work fine, but you do lose out on flavor.
One nifty little product can help you cheat and get fresh herb flavor in your cooking: herb butter. Herb butter is available commercially (Kerrygold makes a delicious one), or you can make it at home.
I do grow my own herbs, and I find that sometimes they produce far more than I can use. At other times, especially if it hasn’t rained in a while, there aren’t enough leaves (or they’re dry and crunchy) to make a meal. I balance this out by gathering large quantities when they’re available and preserving them in a variety of ways so that I can use them when the pickings are slim.
Last Sunday, I gathered a big pile of basil, rosemary, sage, lemon thyme, and oregano and turned it into herb butter.
It doesn’t look like much, and believe me, this was the best picture we could get. It’s kind of a queasy green color.
I didn’t measure any of my quantities, and I feel like this is something you should make to your own taste. I had a double handful of basil leaves, three 6″ sprigs of rosemary, twenty sage leaves, a handful of thyme, and a handful of oregano. That’s as exact as it gets, I’m afraid.
Before I went out to pick the herbs, I took out two sticks of unsalted butter and a whole bulb of fresh garlic. The butter needs to get close to room temperature. If you’re in a hurry, you can melt the butter in the microwave, drop the herbs into it, and put it back in the fridge to harden back up, but I find this makes it kind of weird. Not a bad option if you’re planning on using it that day, though.
I sliced the ends off the garlic and smashed it flat with my knife to remove the paper. The entire bulb went into my food processor, which I pulsed until the garlic was little more than paste. After removing all the stems from my other herbs, I added them one at a time, pulsing after each addition. I like my herb butter very smooth, so I run the food processor until the herbs are basically a slurry.
Finally, I added in the butter, which had reached room temperature and was soft. Blending the butter and herbs requires multiple rounds of pulsing and scraping the sides with a spatula. It’s okay to have a few little lumps of unblended butter – I won’t tell.
I divided the result into two small tubs, labeled them, and stuck one in the fridge and one in the freezer. The one in the freezer will keep pretty much indefinitely. I have no idea how long the other one will last – I always use it up before it becomes an issue. But I imagine it will keep for a good long time in a sealed container.
Herb butter is extremely versatile stuff. Just scoop out what you need and get going! I’ve used it as a base for sauces and to saute vegetables. A dollop on the top of a really good steak is fabulous. Smear a little on the outside of a chicken and in the cavity before roasting to get a crisp brown skin, great flavor, and an aroma that will bring everyone in the house running. I imagine it would be good melted on popcorn.
One of the nice things about this mixture is that it contains no salt. I really dislike buying herb blends that contain salt – I prefer to salt things myself.
You can make this with any blend of herbs you like, even if they’re storebought. I don’t recommend buying pre-pureed herbs (the kind in tubes) because they contain a bunch of other crap – sweeteners, preservatives, etc. I’m not one of those people that thinks preservatives are killing our children or anything, but I think you should always err on the side of fewer ingredients you can’t pronounce.