Joy the Baker

Fore Street Mussels from Portland, Maine

September 13, 2012

maine mussels

I’d like to introduce you to the best thing I’ve ever eaten.  It’s buttery, nutty, ocean salty, and comes from a place in Portland, Maine.  What follows might be considered a photographic love letter to the people and places I encountered in Maine.  I just feel so lucky to be able to recreate a piece of my memories at home, in my kitchen.

maine mussels

The people at Fore Street restaurant make magic (and mussels) come out of this kitchen space.  The restaurant feels like you’re sitting in someone’s home… with a bunch of strangers, wine, and amazing food (and you don’t have to help with the dishes).  If I had a list of favorite restaurants around the country, Fore Street would top the list.  It tastes like home, elevated to its highest level.

My meal there certainly elevated my home kitchen, because I took their famous mussels and made them in my home kitchen.  Then I sat on the couch, with wine and bread and a ridiculous amount of napkins… and more bread.

maine is awesome!

Before we head to mussel-land, there’s more I want to tell you about Maine.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Maine is special.  Inspiration falls from the sky and grows from the ground.

Gosh Portland, Maine… for a second you had me thinking your were Austin, Texas.

I think it was the surprisingly warm night air, the hospitality of Cheryl Lewis at El Rayo, the unapologetic use of the color orange, and the goat meat tacos.

maine is awesome!

Anyone who hands me a margarita (especially a well garnished margarita) is a friend (and I mean a gooood friend) of mine.

maine is awesome!

El Rayo Taquiera, Portland Maine.  It’s bright, colorful, fun, inspired by tequila and tacos.

maine is awesome!

Abigail Carroll of Nonesuch Oysters taught me about spat (teeny tiny baby oysters) and some of her new oyster growing techniques.  She also insisted I taste a pale green oyster that tasted exactly like a copper penny.  Amazing.  (You can read more about Nonesuch Oysters in Sweet Paul Magazine ((super rad!)).)

maine is awesome!

Standard Baking Company is serious.  They make the bread that Fore Street serves with their buttery mussels.  The dipping of their bread in these mussels was be-yond!

maine is awesome!

Behind the scenes of Standard Bakery Company there are hard-working, morning people, and lots and lots of pans and flour and bench scrapers.

maine is awesome!

Their morning buns take two days to make!  When they’re made, they’re made for serious.  These are huge ropes of rolls.

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I got to meet Peggy of Jordan Farms.  We walked around talking about eggplant and admiring cucumbers.

You know… totally normal.

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At Jordan’s Farm is a tiny restaurant called The Well.  They serve dinner, five nights a week, in these enclosed gazebos in the middle of the farm.  It’s entirely too charming.  Jason, the chef and owner knows how to make simple food sing.  Most restaurants boast about being farm to table, but The Well is literally farm.to.table… because the table is actually on the farm.

maine is awesome!

maine is awesome!

Jason made Maine Wild Blueberry Cobbler and I’m so glad this has happened for me once in my life.

maine is awesome!

Broadturn Farm, run by Stacy Brenner and John Bliss is a hard-working farm.  It’s home to a produce and flower CSA, weddings and events, and Flora Bliss,

maine is awesome!

I’ve never been to a working flower farm, and Broadturn felt intentional, yet wild and real.

maine is awesome!

Stacy helped me realize something about Maine.

Maine is beautiful, unique, totally special, a place that I would daydream about living in the picture perfect summer months.  It’s possible to create the life you want for yourself in Maine.  It’s possible to have a dream about nurturing land, building a barn, and growing a family that know how to milk goats and tend to chickens in a coup.  But making that dream a reality is a journey… a really tough journey every year that you decide to continue living your dream.

That’s not to say that we can’t make our dreams real in Los Angeles or Milwakee… of course we can and we try and try and try.  Stacy just helped me remember how hard we work for the dreams that we have.  How unromantic they can be.  How exhausting.  How full of pests and taxes… and how it’s totally worth it all, but still totally hard.

maine is awesome!

And Stacy had kitties… that would come sit next to me.  I’m a sucker.

maine is awesome!

Rock City Coffee Roasters roasts their beans on-site in Rockland, Maine.

maine is awesome!

I’m currently enjoying bags of their coffee now every morning.  It’s so rich and round that it’s hard to share… though I never have been very good at sharing.

maine is awesome!

While in Maine, I snuck into Hello, hello Books in Rockland and signed a few of my cookbooks.

maine is awesome!

Speaking of books, I’m clearly trying to extend my vacation days by reading about Maine every night.  My favorite reading right now is The Year of the Goat.  It’s about a couple, Margaret and Karl, who lived in New York City, and decided… you know… to live the dream and move to Maine and raise goats.  The book is a story of the year they took together to travel the country researching their dream.  It’s a food book, dream book, love story.  I feel fortunate to be reading it, and even that much more fortunate to have shared a meal of goat meat tacos with them.

Margaret and Karl and also author and photographer, respectively, of Portland, Maine Chef’s Table.  It’s like a secret recipe book for some of Maine’s best treats.  Goodness abound.

maine mussels

That was a long way to mussels, wasn’t it?

Thank you for going on that ride with me.

Let’s talk about flavors.  This is how we’re going to celebrate our mussels. Onions, garlic (not pictured), and lemon… solid base flavors.  Butter for luxuriousness.  Parsley and jalapeno for jazz.  Almonds for… whaaat!?  Almonds are the wonderful surprise of this dish.  They’re ground in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients creating a savory, chunky, toasted, spicy nut butter (literally and most deliciously).

maine mussels

Mussels are scrubbed and debearded.

This is the only part of this recipe that takes any extra effort.  Have you ever debearded a mussel?  Here’s how.

maine mussels

I have a miniature food processor.  The ingredients for this recipe may seem like they’re coming to the brim.  I’m just working with a small size.

Almonds are chopped coarsely using the pulsing action.

maine mussels

All the other goodness, butter included, is added to the food processor.

maine mussels

Look at this nut butter (literally).  Some pieces of the almond are pulverized, others are the size of peas.  Variety.  Butter is creamy and studded with flecks of parsley and jalapeno.  Onion, garlic, and lemon are representing.  It’s so incredibly major.

Taste and season with salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste.  Oh gosh.  So good.

maine mussels

I placed my mussels in a cast iron skillet, added a touch of white wine, and dolloped the butter mixture on top.

In the oven the butter will melt down, melt with the wine, and bring together the flavors of onion, garlic, lemon, parsley, spice, and mussel.  Nothing bad happening here.

maine mussels

All we have to do is wait.

That’s hard.

maine mussels

While I wait I really enjoyed the exercise of slicing bread, scooping olives, and pouring wine.

It makes the placing of this sizzling pot of buttery mussels that much more satisfying.

maine mussels

This is real life consumption.  Mussels are tender and seasoned.  Bread is the perfect utensil.

This dish is sexy and earnest.  It’s simple , comforting, and somehow profound.  It really is one of the best dishes I’ve ever enjoyed and I’m humbled that I can make it come out of my oven.

I really hope you’ll try this recipe and enjoy it.  Make it a date.  Make it a dinner party.  Open a second bottle of wine.  Celebrate a night of living.  This dish will make it super special.

Note:  I made a full batch of the almond butter, but I halved the mussels (only using 2 pounds instead of 4).  I froze the other half butter for a later batch of mussels.

Fore Street Mussels from Portland, Maine

serves 4

adapted from Food&Wine

Print this Recipe!

1/2 cup dry roasted almonds

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup chopped white or yellow onion (half of one medium onion)

2 heaping tablespoons chopped parsley

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 teaspoons mined jalapeno (seeds removed)

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

salt to taste

4 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded

1/2 cup dry white wine

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Scrub and debeard the mussels.  If any of the mussels are open and don’t close after a tap or two, throw those guys away.

Place almonds in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment.  Coarsely grind the almonds by pulsing a few times.

Add the butter, garlic, onion, parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest, jalapeno, red pepper flakes, and a few pinches of salt.  Blend the mixture until it comes together.  The mixture will be thick.  Some of the almonds will be ground up well and others will be more coarsely chopped.  Great!  This will all meld together in the oven.  Taste the butter to see if it needs any more salt of pepper.  It’s totally good, isn’t it?

Place the mussels in a large roasting pan.  Top with 1/2 cup white wine.  Dollop butter throughout the pan, making sure that each part of the pan has a bit of the butter mixture.

Place pan in the oven and bake for 12 minutes.  Slice baguette into slices while the mussels bake.  Take the pan out once during baking to stir the mussels and butter together.  The butter will have melted down, leaving the almonds on top of the mussels.  Stir that all together!

Remove the mussels from the oven and serve immediately with baguette and wine!  [/printable]

 


124 Comments Add A Comment

  • I love mussels I also love falling in love with Maine through your pictures!! So beautiful! I never thought to add nut butter to mussels, great idea!

  • I used to live above a barbershop on Fore St.(in 1980)! My boyfriend & his dad ran the local fish market, so we ate alot of fresh seafood (scallops were my favorite). Doesn’t sound like the area’s changed much, fortunately!

  • Ok, I don’t think I’m much of a mussels person but you definitely sold me on Maine! I’ve actually always dreamed of moving to the east coast because it just seems cozy!

  • I miss Maine! I had the opportunity to visit a few times over the past year, and it was wonderful. I think I had (amazing) oysters at Fore Street. The restaurant Grace is also amazing, its in a beautiful old church. And I spent a lot of time in the Rockland area; I can’t believe I missed the coffee roaster!
    Thanks for helping me reminisce!

  • Thanks a lot, now we will never get in to FORE STREET.
    Only kidding. Great Post.
    We happen to be at your round table before you that night. Hope we did not make you wait to long??

    Bernie ( Peaks Island )

  • Joy, awesome, awesome post!!! Beautifully written and insightfully photographed. I want to drop everything and sprint to Maine right now.

    I don’t mean to gush, but I have to give this acknowledgement. I’m a little late to the party (been reading about 6 months now) but you’ve quickly become my number one favorite blog. I love your authentic and gracious yet playful voice, and your recipes… well, they’re pretty maj too :D Keep on keepin’ on!

  • So incredible to read about my adopted hometown/home state through your eyes. I feel so fortunate to bringing up my kids here, thanks for describing Maine in such a beautiful way. Agreed, the Standard Baking Company breakfast rolls are divine.

  • What a beautiful post! Seven years (and some change) ago I took my honeymoon to Portland. I agree, Maine is extremely special. I haven’t been back since, which needs to be corrected at some point. We spent a lot of time at the beach and went to a minor league baseball game – Go Sea Dogs!!! Such a fun time, and I love your post. Can’t wait to go back to Maine. :)

  • acknowledging my bummed-out-ness that you met a bunch of my actual friends, and I didn’t know until after.

  • Now I have to visit Maine!

    (and now I understand how the Soule’s are doing it ;)

  • I am a mussel fanatic. At least once a week, when my kids are at their dad’s, I stop by the fish market, pick up a couple of pounds of mussels and steam them. I also eat them on the couch with plenty of bread, wine and napkins! This recipe looks amazing and I think I will be stopping at the fish market tonight to try it!

    Recipe aside, this was really a beautiful and thought provoking post. You are great writer, in that you seem to whisper to the soul.

    Thanks

  • what a timely post: i’m headed to portland in 2 weeks (!) to run my first marathon (!!) and will definitely be eating some tacos at the finish line. (okay, maybe after a shower.)

  • I spent a week last summer WWOOFing in Maine on a blueberry farm and it was the most amazing and eye opening experience of my life. It is a beautiful world up there and I want to go back everyday!

    xoxo
    Megan

  • Joy, I can’t believe you were here in Portland!! It makes me wonder whether I scurried past you on Commercial Street while running to work. I am so happy that you loved your time here! Portland is a huge food and arts town- its low-key, sorta hippy-trendy vibe is comfortable and earnest. I moved here four years ago after college, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Hope you make it back!

  • I have never tried mussels before – pretty much everything else oceanic of the new england variety. I don’t know why I haven’t indulged, but this makes me want to. Maybe, just maybe… I will.

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