If you're throwing a thrifty dinner party, this probably means two things, 1. all of your other meals are thrifty and 2. your guests don't have a huge disposable income either. This means showing off with some cous cous spinach chickpea extravaganza may be tasty, but your guests probably ate something similar yesterday.
Mussels are one of our favorite ingredients to prepare for dinner parties. They cook quickly, are surprisingly inexpensive, and provide guests with something that’s a bit out of the ordinary.
Their mild of-the-sea flavor means that they are the prefect base for a variety of flavor combinations but here, we did a take on the classic French Moules Marinière.
Instead of traditional ingredients, we used budget friendly southern-inspired options like lager (in lieu of white wine), seasonal spring Vidalia onions (instead of shallots), and ramped up the flavor profile with smoky maple bacon and fresh lemons.
Next, every good mussel dish requires a vehicle to sop up the sauce. Enter Cornbread Batons: quick and easy, dense buttermilk cornbread, we cut into sticks, and seared off in bacon drippings.
The result? A take on a classic with southern staples and a buttermilk cornbread that stays together when dunked, dipped, and soaked with broth, for a meal that's as filling as it is flavorful, and a little bit fancy. —Fancy and Casual
Southern Spring Mussels
Vidalia spring onions
beer, such as National Bohemian (2 cans)
Begin by making the cornbread. Preheat the oven to 375. Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat, until just melted. Remove from heat. Add honey to melted butter, whisk to combine.
Break and lightly beat egg in a small bowl. To avoid the egg scrambling, temper by slowly adding apx. ¼ cup of warm butter and honey mixture to egg, whisking gently to combine. When combined, add tempered egg mixture back to the saucepan with honey and butter (do not place back on heat). Whisk to combine. You will have a thick syrupy mixture.
In a medium bowl add flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. Add butter mixture to dry ingredients and stir with wooden spoon until just combined.
Pour into well greased 8x8in baking dish. Bake for apx. 25 minutes or until just done. Bread is ready when top springs back when touched, or when a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven.
Using a flat metal spatula, gently press the top of the warm bread to flatten slightly in pan. This encourages the batons to stay together once cut. Allow bread to cool to room temperature.
When cool to touch, slice in half lengthwise, and then into 8 pieces horizontally. You will have 16 rectangular pieces. Set aside and prepare the mussels.
For the mussels, place diced bacon in heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When most of the fat from the bacon has rendered out and bacon begins to crisp, pour off all but 2 tbsp. of drippings.
Add sliced onions and paprika to pot, and sautee until onions are soft and
translucent, apx. 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté briefly, being careful not to burn.
Pour in a little beer to deglaze the pot, scraping up brown bits from bottom. Add zest of 1 lemon. Pour in the rest of the beer and allow the alcohol cook off for a couple of minutes.
Place mussels in sauce, stir to arrange evenly in pan, and cover immediately. Cook for apx. 5 - 7 minutes, or until mussels are steamed open completely.
While the mussels cook, generously brush heavy bottom skillet with reserved bacon drippings. Add sliced pieces of cornbread and cook until lightly seared, rotating to brown on all 4 sides, brushing with additional drippings as you rotate if desired.
When the mussels are open, finish by squeezing in the juice of two lemons, adding in parsley, and seasoning broth with salt and pepper to taste.
Divide mussels and sauce into 4 bowls. Serve immediately with cornbread batons for dipping, discarding any mussels that have not opened.