If you live in Israel, then chances are you have a bottle (or three) of arak lying around. And, if you’re like me, you don’t reach for it all that often. Similar to other anise-flavored spirits like Greek ouzo, French pastis, Turkish raki and Italian sambucco, arak is often consumed in shot form or sipped as an aperitif. It gets its nickname, the Milk of Lions, because a splash of water turns the liquid from clear to milky white and mellows the flavor slightly.
I’ve often thought about cooking with arak, but had yet to find the right application. As soon as I saw mussels in my local Russian market I knew I would cook them in arak. And so this recipe was born. It turned out beautifully.
As much as I love the meaty mussels, my favorite part is usually sopping up the sauce afterward with some bread (preferably slathered in cilantro pesto, a combination I was introduced to at August restaurant in New York). This recipe creates a sop-worthy sauce that you’ll be licking out of the bowl if you run out of bread. If you don’t like arak, never fear – the flavor totally mellows, leaving behind only the slightest hint of anise. This serves 2 people as a main course or 4 as an appetizer. —kmartinelli
Saute the shallots and garlic in oil until soft. Add the wine and arak and cook over high heat until reduced slightly.
Add the mussels (if frozen you can put them in right out of the freezer). Stir, cover, and cook over high heat for just a few minutes, until shells open. Using a slotted spoon, remove the mussels and set them aside in a large bowl.
Add the cream to the pot with the rest of the liquid and simmer until reduced by half. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the mussels back in and throw in the fresh cilantro. Toss to combine and serve with lots of toasted bread (preferably spread with cilantro pesto) to soak up the sauce.
A native New Yorker, I recently moved to Be'er Sheva, Israel with my husband while he completes medical school. I am a freelance food and travel writer and photographer who is always hungry and reads cookbooks in bed.