Each Saturday, I have found myself leaving the farmers market with a bag of mussels. They are a small and elegant shellfish native to this area. For generations, the Native Americans ate them with caution; they are very easily contaminated by red tide, an algae bloom that can make mussels dangerous to eat. These days, there is much care taken by farmers and gatherers, as well as regulations imposed by the government to prevent any accidental fatalities.
And each Saturday, with my bag of mussels, I wonder what I can do differently with them. So, this week, I pickled them. Using a Portuguese recipe from the coastal town of Aveiro, I found that the simple ingredients combine with age to make a delectable and unusual appetizer.
These are very popular tapas served in bars along the northern coast of Spain. Usually they are stuffed with either ham or shrimp or, simply, the mussels themselves. Even for those poor people who are adamant about disliking mussels will find these little things delicious.
The caviar in the foreground, along with whole mussels, rose petals, wood sorrel, arugula blossoms, lemon zest and threads of sorrel.
There is a cluster of mussels attached to the salty spots of my heart. They were the first shellfish I learned how to cook when I was a teenager. My mom and dad showed me how to dump a bit of white wine and pepper into the pot, pop them open with a boil, and drizzle their stock over them. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we eat our mussels this way, with a bit of garlic, a pinch of salt and maybe some butter.
This very elegant and easy presentation of mussels came about by accident. I had some left in the fridge and had to use them. To my delight, I discovered that the broth had permeated the mussels in the most delicate and robust way.