The shells clack softly against the bowl, opening slowly to release the flavor of the sea. The cream is white and thick and animal, the mushrooms are meaty brown morsels of the forest. Lemon for acid, and herbs for a sprinkling of garden flavor; this dish really does not need any fancy footwork to let the story of the ingredients shine. It may remind you of a walk in the forest, or a warm, cloudy, quiet day by the sea. It may just make you close your eyes and do nothing but taste, over and over, the simple, clear flavors that the earth and sea offer up. Sometimes we do not need anything else, but what is right in front of us. Enough. Soak it up with toasted bread, if you can. Wipe the bowl clean.
Adapted from a recipe in Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables. Serves 4.
Clean and slice the mushrooms. If using wild mushrooms, try to clean them without adding too much additional moisture; use a brush to remove dirt or leaves, before giving wiping clean and dry.
Clean the mussels by rinsing them under running water. Scrape of cut away the tangle of fibers that is called the beard, which is what attached them to the rocks.
Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter, and let it melt before adding the whole sprigs of fresh herbs. Infuse the herbs into the hot butter, letting the herbs become crisp, but not browned.
Remove the whole sprigs from the heat, reserving the butter in the pan. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste, and chili flakes to the butter, and sauté until the mushrooms are cooked well through, about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and mussels to the mushroom mixture.
Cook the mussels with the mushrooms for 10 minutes, stirring or tossing the pan as you go so that the mushrooms do not burn and the mussels are evenly heated.
Cook until the mussels open, then pour in the cream. Fold the mussels and the mushrooms together, until they are all cloaked in cream. If any mussels have not opened by this point, pull them out.
Add the lemon juice. Taste a mushroom and adjust the seasoning with more salt, black pepper, or chile flakes as needed.
Toast a few slices of a hearty sour loaf. Butter, if you are feeling decadent.
Serve with toasted bread, and the whole fried herbs strewn across the top of the shells. You’ll want a bowl for discarded shells, too.
This dish is wonderful, too, in a tangle of pasta, or spooned over a New York or rib-eye steak.
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