Recently, my husband signed up for the monthly beer club at The Rare Barrel, a local outfit specializing in sour beer. This style of beer is crafted to maximize the acidic tang of wild fermentation–the same process that makes sauerkraut taste sour–while minimizing bitterness. The result is a brew that is light, tangy, and easy to drink. Even I, an avowed beer-hater, like this stuff. So when my husband suggested having a few friends over to help us finish this month’s beer-stash, my thoughts immediately turned to cooking with it. Specifically, mussels.
Of all the ways to cook mussels at home, it’s hard to beat simply steaming them in some flavorful liquid. For most of my mussel-eating life, that meant white wine with lots of garlic. But that’s far from the only way to go. I suspected that the light, acidic qualities of a sour beer would make it an ideal swap for dry white wine when steaming shellfish. And I was right.
Instead of the usual garlic saute, I started by sweating diced leek tops and fennel in garlic-infused oil. I threw in some chile flakes, thyme sprigs, and a bay leaf, then added the beer. After steaming the mussels open in their beer-y sauna, I scooped them out of the pot and finished the broth with a few chunks of butter for richness and heft, plus a dollop of mustard for spice. (I left the aromatics in, but you could strain them out of the broth if you prefer, since both leek tops and fennel bulbs can be tough.) Then I poured the enriched broth over the mussels, added a handful of chopped parsley, and set the bowl on the table next to a loaf of spelt bread–sourdough, natch.
Although I used sour beer here, this is really a “mussels steamed with some sort of booze” recipe. If you’re a beer drinker, any good-quality ale will do. If you don’t do beer, try hard cider (preferably on the dry side) or good old white wine. And, honestly, “good-quality” is in the taste buds of the beholder. If you like it enough to drink it, go ahead and cook with it!