INSTRUCTIONS: Be at least two.
Take a food that one player likes but the other one dislikes. Both eat it and try to TASTE it properly.
Then everyone writes down very precisely and detailed what they have tasted and give it to the other player. Discuss it and then eat the same thing again but try to taste it like in the description of the other player.
Maritime Canadian food is easy- if it came from the sea, harvested honestly, then it's Maritime Canadian food. And boy howdy, what food it is. Golden brown chunks of battered haddock, clam chowder thick with potatoes and carrots, seafood pies jam-packed with nice big chunks of shrimp and lobster- oh, it's beautiful. Just taking about it gets me all hungry for a nice big platter. And nothing goes better on a nice big platter than a nice big heap of steamed mussels.
It was a while before I realized that not everyone likes mussels. To me, mussels were like tiny packages of delicious, juicy meat. They were a sign that nature wasn't completely indifferent, that sometimes the world went out of its way to say "Hey, humans, here's a little gift for you. Sorry for the candiru". And I'd say, "It's cool, nature, they don't live this far north", and then I'd eat some mussels. But it was with mounting horror that I realized that some people wouldn't eat mussels- I would watch as these fools picked the mussels out of their soup, as they would recoil in horror when I would offer them a few from my plate. Of course, eventually I realized that this meant more mussels for me, which mollified me somewhat.
When I started collaborating on this task with Rin, I wasn't sure what I'd end up eating. As far in as I could tell (not very far) Pacific Northwest cuisine was pretty close to Atlantic cuisine. Fish, shell or otherwise; potatoes and other tasty vegetables; game meats- just kind of basic, honest vittles. I half-expected there to be some kind of horrifying regional Alaskan dish that I just didn't know about, like a whole deep-fried elk, or baked trees, or a live Kodiak bear covered in Hollandaise sauce, or something, but I'm also colossally paranoid, so, y'know.
As it happened, the recommended item was tea. Good Earth brand, Sweet and Spicy flavour, brewed and then mixed with honey and chilled overnight. I have to concede to not being a fan of tea, I got into coffee in university and since then have found tea more or less undrinkable. By comparison to the strong-as-a-brick coffee in which I typically indulge, the subtle flavours and complexities that tea fans raved about were lost on my thoroughly blasted palate (I am unable to taste anything that is not "roasty" or "burnt"). Still, it would be unsporting to not give it a shot after I recommended mussels (and it beat baked trees any day).
Records of action by Rin Brooker
When I wake up in the morning I look forward to a sweet and tasty drink to sip on while I make breakfast and check my emails. I always pick tea, as coffee is usually too bitter to fit the bill. Some people who don't know the pleasure of this nectar of health and flavor refuse to give tea a fair chance. From what I've heard some people call it potpourri juice and think it would be something licking the forest. They refuse to even give it a try. Luckily, Amoeba Man isn't one of those people and although it doesn't suit his druthers he's being a good sport.
I have never liked mussels but to be honest I haven't tried any for several years. They were cooked in some kind of awful vinegary white sauce and half cold. I gagged. I wasn't able to look at shellfish for months. Amoeba Man suggested I try them steamed, with beer. It took me ages to actually find any mussels up here. Turns out they don't sell them in stores unless I wanted to buy a precooked 2lb box.
I heard from a friend that a local Chinese buffet served them sometimes. I went and sure enough they were there shining wetly in a tray of ice. They were cupped in mother-of-pearl half shells and I was thinking "if nothing else, they are great to look at!" Then I ordered a beer. They didn't have beer.
So I put it in my pocket.
When I got home I uncapped my Alaskan Amber and cleared my pallet. This is how it went.
I have to say, it wasn't the worst thing I've had, but that is the nicest think I can say about it.
What I tasted:
It was bitter, tart, and fishy, sort of like saba(mackerel sushi) but less flavorful. The worst was the texture. even getting it into my mouth was a hassle because there was a bit stuck to the inside of the shell, which I should have expected but didn't. On the outside and some bits inside it was like octopus with surprising other extra chewy bits. I certainly didn't like the feeling of masticating internal organs.
Good: It wasn't slimy, which I had feared it would be, and it wasn't nearly as strong a taste as I thought it would be from the smell. Its similarity to mackerel made it easier. The beer helped.
More from the desk of Amoeba Man
Rin beat me to the punch on this one, eating a mussel before I could respond in kind. I'd been waiting for a weekend when my parents were away to cook myself up some tasty mussels (it's the best opportunity to cook, since I have to make food somehow and the kitchen is only big enough for one). I've included the recipe I used at the end of the proof, along with photos (in case anyone wants to give it a shot), but for now I don't want to break the flow.
I did my best to taste as Rin had done- for one thing, I was more aware of the internal organs of the mollusc, which I had never really noticed before now. Every so often I'd pop one of the little dudes open and just look at its innards. I can't say it bothered me, but I can definitely see what she's getting at, and how it could bug someone. I was also more aware of the bitter undertones, which I was pretty sure weren't from the beer I'd used in the process of steaming (it had taken on a kind of sour taste). Again, something I hadn't noticed before. I expect that's because when I'd had mussels before, they'd been drenched in delicious creamy soup broth or sauce that had drowned it out. I wasn't getting any tartness, though. Mussels always had a very smooth, rich taste to me. The comparison to octopus is not unfounded.
I'll admit, I don't know how the folks at this buffet cooked their mussels- probably steamed, but in what and with what other ingredients, I can't say. It had also been sitting on the open air in ice for grod-only-knows how long, which had who-knows-what kind of effect on the flavour. But I knew I'd been close enough, because apart from the tartness, I could definitely see what Rin was talking about.
Now, it was my turn to drink some tea. I must shamefully admit that, though I searched high and low, across rolling golden plains and deep green valleys, though I slew a mighty dragon and drank deep from the fountain of youth on my quest, though I stole an enchanted lute from a drunken minstrel and played it to win the heart of a queen, I could not find any Good Earth brand tea. I later checked their website, and it looks like it may only be carried in the U.S. I thought sending away for a box of tea from which I'd only use 1 teabag seemed extravagant, and I'd already spent enough time waiting to do this task, so I subbed in Rooibos Red and, other than that, followed Rin's instructions to the letter.
I found myself early the next morning, staring down a cup of hot tea with honey in it, doing my best to taste it properly.
The taste wasn't entirely what I expected. I remembered tea being a fairly weak, unpleasant drink; little more than overly enthusiastic water that was trying too hard. This was a different beast altogether. It wasn't as strong as hot drinks that I'm used to, but the flavour was very pronounced. The tea itself had a woody, spicy sort of taste to it. I tried to think of an approximation, but couldn't; this seemed an entirely new taste to me. The honey was also very pronounced, in spite of my having only added a small amount. The entire brew had a sweetness that, while very prominent, was not overpowering. I was pleased with the results, because in spite of not being able to find the appropriate brand, I appeared to have found a sweet-and-spicy brew all my own. Altogether, I'm not sure it's an experience I'd repeat, but it was certainly a nice surprise to be proven at least a little bit wrong.
Amoeba Man's recipe for Beer-Steamed Mussels (that he got off the internet a few days ago)
If you want to make yourself some mussels along the lines that I did, fear not, it's totally doable (and pretty cheap). Here are the things you'll need:
Mussels (about half a pound per serving).
Onions (I used 1 for the half-pound and it was plenty, I'd go with 1 per serving)
Green onions (2 per serving)
Salt and Pepper (the recipe said 1/4 tsp per serving, I just eyeballed it to taste and it worked fine)
Butter (recipe says 1 tbsp, but again, I just guessed)
Half a lemon
Beer (more on that later)
You'll need a big, shallow pan in which to cook the mussels. First things first, inspect your mussels. If any are open before you cook them, give them a squeeze shut. If they don't stay closed on their own, toss them out. This is firstly because they are dead, and are therefore not safe to eat. Second, it means that they are quitters, and you don't want to eat those (you are what you eat, after all). Once you've ensured your mussels are alive, leave them to soak for about 15-20 minutes. Rinse them (scrub them well with a good brush) and remove the beards. Mussel beards are the byssus, which are little groups of filaments that mussels secrete to stick themselves to things. They're not really good for eating, so you'll want to take them off. Just grab them and give them a good, hard yank towards the hinge end of the mussel.
You might think this would hurt them, but straight-up, you're going to cook these guys alive in about ten minutes, now is not the time to grow a conscience about this.
Squeeze your lemon juice into the pan, then throw the rest of the lemon in there with it. Now, you want to add the beer. The choice of beer is largely up to you, but since you don't want to overpower the taste of the mussels, you want to use something mild like a Belgian blonde, or a light wheat beer. Folks who use alcohol a lot in cooking will already know this, but don't wig out on the fanciest beer you can for steaming. You're just going to boil the hell out of it anyway. Save the highfaluting business for the meal. I used Rickard's White, or as I like to call it, Fizzball Beer. You also don't want to use so much that you overpower the taste of the mussels, either, since they release their own juices in their death throes while you cook them, and those can make a nice flavouring all their own. I added enough to cover the bottom of the pan, then alternated between taking gulps of the beer and dumping a bit more into the pan. This worked pretty well, as far as I could tell.
Bring the beer to a boil, then reduce the heat, add the mussels, and cover the pan. Take this opportunity to chop up the green onions. After about 10 minutes, your mussels should be cooked and open. Toss the lemon.
Now it's your choice how to serve this. I drained the beer into a bowl, put the mussels in a second bowl, then scooped out the onions and dumped them over the mussels. Then I poured as much of the beer as I wanted over the onions and mussels. However you do it, sprinkle (or dump) some green onions over the whole business and serve with whatever you feel appropriate. The rule of thumb is to not serve it with anything that's going to overpower the taste of the mussels. I used some mild cheese on basic whole wheat rolls, and that was tasty. As to the beer, the same rule applies. This is where you can drop some shiny on a fancy beer if you like. You still want to keep it in the blonde/weissbier range, though. I tried it with a New Brunswick microbrew called Picaroon's, which was alright, but had a spicy afternote which didn't go well with the mussels. Were I to go at it again, I'd try it with something more akin to an Erdinger Dunkel.
Pour boiling water into a teapot with the tea bag. Leave sitting on the counter for 10-15 minutes. Add a little honey, stir, and refrigerate overnight -don't remove the teabag. Remove the teabag in the morning, stir, enjoy!
Mussels inna bowl
These onions have just been added to the pan.
Onions with beer
I've added about enough beer to cover the bottom of the pan. I wouldn't use more than that.
These are what your mussels ought to look like when cooked. If any are still closed at this stage, get rid of them.
Picaroon's Best Bitter beer, whole-grain buns with cheese, mussels soaked in beer and covered in onions. Aw yiss.
I couldn't get Good Earth, so I used Rooibos instead.