I do not fully understand the synergistic relationship between shellfish and pork products, but I do not question it. Clams are delicious with smoky bacon, and at Spanish restaurant Pizarro, I ate seared scallops, each of which was topped with a translucent sliver of Iberico pork lardo – pure cured fat – which softened and clung lasciviously to the scallop. It was seriously one of the most pervy things I have ever put in my mouth. Guanciale is unsmoked cured pork jowl. The fat in guanciale, of which guanciale is mostly comprised, is more delicate and tender than belly fat. Guanciale is the key ingredient in classic Carbonara sauces (until you have tried Carbonara with guanciale, you have not truly experienced Carbonara) and it is a remarkably fortuitous item to have in your fridge when you’re casting about for a new way to prepare mussels.
I actually made this guanciale myself with my friend Nicola using Gloucestershire Old Spot pork jowls from Nath the butcher, following Ruhlman’s method. (By “made”, I mean to say I helped her weigh out pink salt, salt, and sugar, patted it on the jowls, put it in a plastic bag to cure, and called her anxiously for bi-weekly updates while she did all the work.) The end product was glorious, and was one of my most singularly gratifying culinary experiences of the year. Nothing makes you feel quite so butch as curing your own meat. If, however, you don’t want to wait three to four weeks to make this dish, or you don’t have a cold room in which to hang your porky creations, you can buy guanciale at an Italian deli. In a pinch, you can use pancetta or unsmoked bacon, but I heartily recommend the guanciale. It is DECADENT.
As for the wild garlic, I think this may be one of my favorite uses so far. It is so wonderfully fragrant, and with the sweet grape tomatoes, briny liquid from the mussels, and fatty pig cheek, it is heaven. Serve these mussels with plenty of crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices, or you can even toss them with linguine.
1 kg (2.2 pounds) mussels, scrubbed clean and debearded (you debeard mussels by pulling any seaweedy bits firmly away from the shell, ideally under cold running water)
100 grams guanciale, or about four thick slices, cut into ½ cm dice
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
350 grams (about ¾ pound) grape tomatoes, as sweet as you can find, sliced in half lengthwise
25 grams (about an ounce) wild garlic (ramps), cut into chiffonade
About 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
80 ml (about 1/3 cup) dry white wine
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Sweat the diced guanciale over medium-low heat in a reasonably large heavy bottomed saucepan until it is translucent. Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook until golden. Add the sliced garlic and shallots and sauté until transparent. Do not allow to brown. Stir in the grape tomatoes and black pepper, and cook just until the tomatoes have started to soften and split, no more than five to seven minutes.
Add the wine and increase heat to high. When the liquid has started to boil, add the mussels and put a lid on the pot. Cook for about three minutes, covered, shaking the pot from time to time. Gently stir through the wild garlic and parsley, reserving a few sprigs of parsley for garnish if desired, and replace the lid on the pot. Continue to cook until the mussels have opened completely, about another three to five minutes. You shouldn’t need salt, because both the mussels and the guanciale contain quite a lot, but at this point you can taste your broth and add a bit of salt if desired.Serve immediately. Makes two to four main-course servings, or four to eight servings if served as a starter.
Smashing pictures. Have you considered entering The Digital Lightroom Photography Competition? The theme is ‘Still Life’. It’s free to enter and there are prizes worth $400. You can find all the details here http://thedigitallightroom.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/the-third-digital-lightroom-competition-is-launched/ We’d love to see your entries. 🙂
Thank you! Looks like a cool contest. I’ll scrounge around my photos for suitable entries. 🙂
Oh, wonderful! First of all, I love your photos. I’ve never seen a striped mussel shell like that. And, we’ve been looking for something to use Steve’s remaining guanciale in. It’s been languishing in the freezer. Guanciale is absolutely delicious, as you say, but one can only do so much carbonara. Our ramps are gone, but the green garlic is here, so I think that will make a fine substitute.
I’d never seen a mussel shell like that either — and this batch had a couple, but they only revealed themselves after cooking. They were an exciting surprise when I was styling my photos.
With my two cured guanciales, I first made lots of carbonara, then amatriciana, then added it to vegetables, then more carbonara, then felt guilty about eating so much guanciale and only took it out when I wanted to impress my friends. I should have thought of mussels sooner!
Good luck with your porky seafood adventures. x
Mmmm…I pretty much think bacon is good on everything.
The English marvel at how much we Americans love bacon. 😀
Reblogged this on The Broke Persons Guide to College Cooking and commented:
This looks delicious…
Thank you! 🙂
What a great post, Susan!
I wish I could find ramps here in So Cal. I saw them at the Union Square green market when I was in NYC and I was tempted to buy them.
The guanciale looks awesome. I bet it tasted just out of this world. I’m so jealous!
New York! Did you have a wonderful time? When I get back to Seattle, I’m going to try to rig my fridge so I can use a corner of it to cure meats. I’m hooked. xx
New York was fun, as always.
I am planning on being in Seattle in late August. Will you still be there?
I’ll be away for my dad’s birthday for a few days around the 25th, but otherwise yes!
Good thing I cleared it with you now, because I was thinking Aug. 22-26. Will the weekend before work?
Yes! That would be great!
Mussels are one of the things I missed so much when I was pregnant – this looks beautiful and I will definitely try it!
One question – are grape tomatoes the same as cherry tomatoes? Thank you!
Thanks Mimi! Grape tomatoes are the ones that are the same size as cherry tomatoes but oblong. You often see yellow ones. Frankly, use any small tomatoes you like, as long as they are very sweet. 🙂
Lovely recipe, gorgeous photos, but what I love most is that bowl!
Thanks Jennifer! I’ve been doing pottery again. 🙂
This looks incredible! I can almost taste all the flavours just looking at those photos. And – your recipe has glorious ramps in it! Amazing!
It does! I love the short ramp season. 🙂
I love Mussels so cheap and quick to cook! I do hate cleaning them though, we always seem to get ones full of barnacles and I spend ages getting them off which is quite difficult whilst trying not to damage the shells. This recipe looks fab!
I’m running a competition with Sainsburys over on my blog, you could win £50 for submitting a recipe to: http://foodgeek.co.uk/2013/05/my-signature-quick-rogan-josh-recipe-how-you-can-win-50/
It ends tonight but I’ve not had many entries so the odds on winning are good!
Thank you for this nice comment and for stopping by my blog. I love mussels for the same reason, but I know what you mean about cleaning them! I submitted an entry for your contest.
Gorgeous looking recipe! And I agree with you–when it comes to cooking, the Iberians got it going on. The seafood/pork combination is tops.
So true. One word: chorizo. 😀
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