This is a favorite appetizer that originated in the port city of Callao, just north of Peru’s capital, Lima. It consists of steamed mussels that are chilled, served on the half shell, and topped with a zesty relish. You can cook the mussels and assemble the relish in advance; both will keep in the refrigerator for a day. These Peruvian-style mussels make elegant party appetizers but are also perfect with an ice-cold beer while watching a sports game. —Carlos C. Olaechea
2 pounds mussels
small yellow onion, cut in half
pisco or vodka
large garlic cloves, smashed
medium red onion, very finely diced and rinsed
large tomato, seeded and very finely diced
rocoto chile, finely diced (or any chile of your choice, to taste)
Add the onion, water, pisco or vodka, and garlic cloves to a large saucepan and cover. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and add all the mussels. Cover the saucepan and cook for 5 minutes.
Fill a large bowl with ice and water and place it near the saucepan containing the mussels. After the mussels have cooked for 5 minutes, uncover the saucepan, remove any mussels that have opened and place them into the bowl of ice water. Continue simmering, removing any opened mussels, until you have transferred all of them into the bowl of ice water. Set the mussels aside.
Raise the heat to high and reduce the cooking liquid by half. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid.
In a separate bowl, combine the diced red onion, tomato, rocoto, cilantro, choclo, lime juice, and 2 tablespoons of the mussels’ cooking liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can also adjust the acidity and spiciness by adding more lime juice and chiles. You can store the mussels and the topping in the refrigerator for several hours until you are ready to serve.
When you are ready to serve, break off half of the mussel shell that is not attached to the meat and discard. Arrange the mussels on the half shell on a large platter and top each mussel with a teaspoon of the onion mixture. Serve cold.
Note: Choclo is a variety of corn native to Peru and its neighboring countries. It is often called Peruvian giant corn because each kernel is about the size of a thumb print. You can find imported frozen choclo at many Latin American markets. Unlike North American corn, choclo is very starchy (like a potato) and not sweet at all. The flavor and texture are irreplaceable, so if you cannot find choclo, simply omit it from the recipe.
I was born in Peru to a Limeño father and a Texan mother. We moved to Miami when I was five, and I grew up in the "Kendall-suyo" neighborhood—often called the 5th province of the Inca Empire because of its large Peruvian population. I've been writing about food since I was 11 years old, and in 2016 I received a master's degree in Gastronomy from Boston University. A travel columnist at Food52, I'm currently based in Hollywood, Florida—another vibrant Peruvian community—where I am a writer, culinary tour guide, and consultant.