As pumpkin pie spice reminds me of pumpkin and poultry seasoning reminds me of poultry, so too does dried oregano remind me, somehow, of pizza. There's nothing like frying oregano in butter to scent the entire apartment with Perfume of Pizza (even whilst the tomatoes have yet to be added). With this in mind, I thought it'd be fun to transfer those flavors to another dish I love cooking in the winter: moules marinière, or sailor-style mussels.
Coined the “quintessential holiday dish in France” by Guardian writer Felicity Cloake, mussels are exactly what you want to eat when you need a duvet of brothy comfort and nothing else. In my lifetime I must’ve cooked these sable-tinted bivalves about a hundred different ways: classically with garlic, white wine, and parsley; Thai-inspired with red curry paste, coconut milk, and lemongrass; and, one of my favorite preparations, stewed in a tomatoey marinara sauce with linguine. Mussels are the perfect food not just around the holidays when it’s peak mussel season, but also on quiet, lazy weeknights when I want to cook myself something simple but comforting to eat.
Albeit these don’t have pizza's characteristic mozzarella (thankfully, as cheese would clump up in the broth), the base is an aromatic tangle of butter, tomato paste, and dried oregano. To deglaze the pan, I like to splash in some sherry or vermouth, whichever I have on hand; white wine would work here, too. A dollop of sour cream makes this dish creamy, and plays the part of “cheese” without all that clagginess. For me, a good book and a hunk of bread are all that’s needed to complete the meal—and to feel, somehow, less alone in December.
Even more, this entire recipe takes 30 minutes to cook from start to finish—and, if you're like me, about 30 seconds to eat. —Eric Kim
In a wide saucepan with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the onions for a good 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and oregano and caramelize for 2 to 3 minutes. Splash in the sherry/vermouth and let reduce until sticky, 1 minute. Whisk in the sour cream until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Plop in the mussels. Stir well. Cover with a lid and let steam for 5 to 10 minutes, or until all the mussels have *just* opened up. (Be careful not to overcook these delicate bivalves.)
Decant into a bowl and sop up juices with giant bread.
Eric Kim is the Table for One columnist at Food52. Formerly the managing editor at Food Network and a PhD candidate in literature at Columbia University, he is currently working on his first cookbook, to be published by Clarkson Potter in Spring 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at Saveur, Bon Appétit, and The New York Times and follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho. Born and raised in Georgia, Eric lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson.