Oysters & mussels: When you want to make a fuss without making a fuss

  • Oysters make the simplest starter for a special feast — just shuck and eat and serve with a bottle of bubbly. E. Jason Wambsgans

  • Mussels can be cooked myriad ways; this version keeps it simple with tomatoes, white wine and garlic. E. Jason Wambsgans

Chicago Tribune
Published: 2/8/2019 3:55:59 PM

The last place you’ll catch my wife and me on Valentine’s Day is dining at a restaurant. Since I’m a food writer, I eat out nearly every day, and few calendar dates strike me with more fear than Feb. 14.

Instead, we celebrate Valentine’s Day at home, using it as an excuse to ignore the entire world (with the exception of our daughter). Plus, we splurge on items we’d hardly be able to afford at a restaurant. You know, the good stuff: Champagne, oysters and fancy chocolate.

Cooking at home, of course, is not without its own hassles. Sweating in the kitchen for hours to craft the perfect romantic meal can feel just as stressful as braving the wilds of the restaurant scene on Valentine’s Day. That’s why our menu consists of items that require the least amount of effort to prepare, yet make you feel like a million bucks.

Oysters need nothing more than to be opened. While this does require some finagling — and you will need to purchase an oyster knife for stress-free shucking, and an old towel helps avoid serious injuries — once popped, all you need to do is slurp away. Sure, some might like a squeeze of lemon or a drop of a vinegary mignonette, but if you score great oysters from a trusted fishmonger, why cover them up? We like to order a dozen, and let the fishmonger direct us toward the freshest offerings.

The main course is mussels. Even though you’ll be purchasing the bivalves by the pound (3 pounds is about right for two), they are still among the most affordable shellfish options around. And they couldn’t be simpler to prepare.

Just create a flavorful base, add the mussels and cook until they spring open. Sure, mussels need to be cleaned and debearded — a five-minute job if you’re counting — but they can be cooked in less than five minutes.

Simply saute some onion and garlic, add some tomatoes and the wine, dump in the mussels and, three minutes later, dinner is served. The only way you could screw this up is if you forget the crusty bread to dip into the mussel-imbued liquid.

MUSSELS WITH TOMATO AND WHITE WINE

Makes: 2 servings

3 pounds mussels

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

1 cup crushed canned tomatoes

½ cup dry white wine

Handful fresh parsley, chopped

Crusty bread

1. Rinse and scrub mussels under cold water. Remove beard from mussels, if necessary. Discard any mussels that won’t close if gently pressed.

2. Heat oil in a large pot set over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and salt; cook until onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and oregano; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the tomatoes; cook until they have slightly thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in wine.

3. Increase heat to high to bring to a boil. Add the mussels, cover the pot and cook, stirring every minute, until all the mussels have opened, 3 to 4 minutes. Discard any that don’t. Turn off the heat; add the parsley.

4. Divide mussels and liquid between two large bowls. Serve with crusty bread.




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