Shrimp & Mussels

Protein has been the subject of much debate around our dinner table lately. “You know,” said Craig when I served him pasta for the umpeenth time the other night, “if you’re trying to get in shape” (see newsletter) “you should probably serve more protein and less carbs.”

It’s a fair point, but here’s the deal: unlike most cooks who came of age in a pre-Pollan era, I don’t feel comfortable buying that mass-market plastic-wrapped factory-farmed meat you see in the grocery store. I don’t judge those who do–I’m actually envious of those who do–but, for me, I can’t shake images from Food Inc. out of my head. So it’s easier to cook pasta and rice and vegetables and beans because it doesn’t throw me into an ethical quandary (and it’s way cheaper); only, I eat so many carbs my body is now made up of 70% flour. I think that may be a problem.

So the next best option, I imagine, is seafood. At least with seafood, there aren’t any ethical hurdles, right? You can just blindly buy some fish at the fish store, get your protein fix and be done with it, right?

Wrong! It’s no easier buying seafood these days than it is buying anything else. You have to be aware of which fish are overfished (the Monterey Bay Aquarium website is a good resource) and even then, you have to make sure that your fish isn’t farm-raised but wild. It’s rather exhausting.

Which is why we turn now to shrimp and mussels. Even though my friend Morgan tells me that the oil spill in the Gulf is going to greatly affect the American shrimp industry, I took the picture you see above pre oil spill. And it was indeed a very easy, protein-rich dinner.

In a non-stick skillet, heat olive oil. Add garlic (I had green garlic from the farmer’s market), shallots, lemon peel and any other aromatics you think you may like (onions? fennel?) and then add a bunch of peeled, clean raw shrimp which you’ve seasoned with salt and pepper:


Only, I think I did this backwards. If I had to do it again I would’ve added the shrimp first, to let them get brown, and then I would’ve added the aromatics—to keep them zingy and fresh. Doesn’t really matter, though. This all cooks super, super fast. Once the shrimp turn pink, you’re basically done. Add lemon juice and, if you have it, white wine. You want to make something of a sauce so you can dip bread in it. Sprinkle with lots of parsley and serve with a salad:


There you are, a protein-lover’s feast (ignore the loaf of carbs in the background.)

Another seafood option–and a cheap one at that–is mussels. Granted, mussels don’t offer that much protein; they’re more an excuse to consume mass quantities of carbs (bread, or in this case, rice) soaked with the mussel sauce leftover in the pan. Let’s not dwell on the negative. As mentioned, mussels are cheap, cheap, cheap. Two pounds of mussels cost me around $5. Two pounds!

Here’s how I cooked mine. In a large Dutch oven, I toasted lots of slivered garlic, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and a crumbled dried red chile in lots of olive oil:


To that I added one cup of white wine, a big dash of salt and brought it to a boil. Then I added all the mussels (which, because I’m neurotic, I let soak in lots of water with a sprinkling of flour to extract any loose sand particles)–only adding the ones that were completely closed (if they don’t close up, they’re probably dead and you should discard them). I let it cook, with the lid on, for six minutes then removed the lid to see if all the mussels had opened. They had:


I removed the mussels to a plate and brought the liquid to a big boil, letting it reduce. If I weren’t on a diet I would’ve added butter (you definitely should). Maybe even cream. And parsley, if you have it. Taste for seasoning; correct with salt and pepper.

As you can see, I served mine with rice:


Make sure to douse everything with that mussel sauce—it’s the best part!

So there you are: two protein-rich dinners, somewhat healthy, mostly ethical and relatively inexpensive. It’s hard to be a food shopper with a conscience in this day and age–especially a skinny one–but the all-you-can-eat ethical pig roast in heaven will make it all worthwhile in the end.

Let's dish!

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