Food and memory are inextricably woven. A lasagna eaten on a terrace overlooking the dusty pink buildings of Bologna is somehow much more memorable than a lasagna eaten at your Aunt Luisa’s summer holiday potluck, no matter how good of a cook she is.
I cannot always recall the details of the places I’ve visited, or even what year I’ve visited them, but I can always recall what I ate there. I still remember my first taste of real Swiss chocolate on a visit to Switzerland with my mom when I was eleven. I’m sure I’ve had better chocolate since then (hello Valrhona!) but nothing matches my memory of that first silky, creamy chocolate coin given to me by my mother’s Swiss friends.
So it’s without a doubt that the highlight of my trip to Prince Edward Island last week was the Atlantic seafood that found its way to my plate virtually every day of my trip. Although I am an unrepentant carnivore and would have a hard time giving up meat, I could do it if I could keep my shellfish. From the king crab to the lowliest of clams, I love them all. Many an evening I will drive out to my local purveyor of fresh seafoods and steam myself a heaping bowlful of mussels marinier, an act my non-foodie friends find shockingly indulgent.
But what of it? Seafood is low in calories and fat and offers a host of nutritional benefits. It’s only recently that it has come to be seen as luxury food; it wasn’t long ago that shellfish like lobster and oysters were reserved for the proletariat.
We started off Day One with a ten pound bag of PEI mussels cooked in white wine–de rigeur for mussels, in my opinion.
To prepare the mussels, scrub them with a sink brush or a coarse dishcloth to free them from any sand residue. A few grains of sand can ruin any seafood dish. If any mussels are not shut tightly they may be dead and therefore dangerous to eat. If you tap them and they close, they’re probably still okay. I cook them any way, and if they don’t open during the steaming process, you should discard them. It’s best to prepare the mussels just after you buy them. You can store them in the fridge for a day, but this will probably result in a lot of dead mussels, which is wasteful.
I like to cook my mussels with parsley, cream, and shallots exclusively, but the varieties are actually endless. One of my favorite restaurants in the city where I live serves them with chopped up chorizo sausage or in a broth with coconut milk and lemongrass.
We ate the mussels for lunch, served with a basket of rolls and some butter for dipping.
As we ate our way through the week, it seemed like we were making our way up the crustacean food chain; mussels, clam, scallops, and finally lobster. It started with a lobster BLT at a Charlottetown oyster bar called Fishbones. There are few things I like more in life than a BLT, so a lobster BLT was really something. My sandwich came with crispy fries and a vial of coarse sea salt to sprinkle them with.
As heavenly as it was, it only whet my appetite for the full meal deal. As it happened, the following day was the last day of lobster fishing on PEI. My brother got up early to go down to the dock to buy them off the lobster fisherman and cooked them up for our lunch. I had not eaten a whole lobster before and was looking forward to eating one.
Because of the recession, people are spending less money on luxuries such as lobster, even on PEI, and unfortunately, the fisherman have been hard hit by this. The lobster was four dollars a pound–unheard of.
This is fifty bucks worth of lobster.
And this little guy was all for me. Actually, he wasn’t so little.
You’d think after this trip I would be seafood-ed out. Au contraire–when I went grocery shopping yesterday I picked up the one type of shellfish I didn’t have on PEI. I picked up a big bag of prawns. Shrimp cocktail, anyone?
Moules Marinieres (Mussels in White Wine)
Adapted from Ina Garten’s “Barefoot in Paris”
6 pounds mussels
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped shallots
1/3 cup minced garlic
3/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 cups white wine
1/2 cup cream
4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1) Heat the butter and olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for five minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, or until the shallots are translucent but not browned.
2) Add the parsley, wine, cream, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil.
3) Add cleaned mussels and stir. Cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until the mussels are opened. Discard and mussels that remain shut. With the lid on, shake the pot a couple of times to make sure the mussels don’t burn on the bottom. Pour the mussels and the sauce in a large bowl and serve hot with slices of fresh French bread.