Whenever I have a festive dinner (not necessarily just for Christmas) that features a major hunk of four legged animal (beef, lamb or pork) or substantial fowl (turkey, duck, goose, capon), I like to start with a seafood appetizer to balance the meal out. Usual suspects are large prawns, crab claws, rock lobsters, smoked salmon or tanguigue. A little more involved are a raw tuna seviche, a crab salad with mayonnaise and dill or fried crab cakes tinapa spread or Italian style seafood salad. I rarely serve shellfish in this country because I am rarely certain where it comes from. Shellfish such as clams, mussels, etc. generally sit in the sand or muck in one area and feed off of all the nutrients in the waters surrounding them. If the waters are slightly dirty, I am of the notion that the shellfish is likewise dirty. I may have high â€œcooty- factoritisâ€ but thatâ€™s meâ€¦I only serve shellfish when I am certain it comes from cleaner watersâ€¦ tell me itâ€™s from somewhere in Manila Bay, read â€œay, sa Cavite pa po yanâ€ or â€œmalinis yan, malayo-layo galing sa Boulevard kinuhaâ€ and you will see me running as far away from the vendor as possible with arms flailing in the airâ€¦
That was a long introduction to some wickedly delicious baked mussels. As a general rule, I also do not buy shellfish unless it is seriously alive. But recently I have relaxed those standards and have tried clams flash frozen from Negros in the South and last weekend, some green-lipped mussels flash frozen in New Zealand and imported into the Philippines. At PHP160 a Â½ kilo, they were pricey but really very good. I got about 19 pieces of mussels on the half shell per Â½ kilo so they came in at about PHP9 each, much more than mussels of less “chi-chi” provenance. Just defrost until soft but still cool to the touch. Turn your oven on high, say 375-400 degrees F. Put a generous blob of butter on each mussel. Sprinkle with salt and cracked black pepper. Sprinkle generously with a mixture of breadcrumbs and grated cheese. I used some pecorino romano and parmeggiano reggiano because I happened to have dry leftovers. Add some chopped parsley if you have it, I didnâ€™t. You can also sprinkle some olive oil on top if you want. Put into hot oven until breadcrumbs as just slightly golden brown. Serve hot with some lemon wedges. A really nice start to any mealâ€¦fancy or not. Great with beer by the way! If you happen to live in the provinces with reliable mussel sources, you are in nirvanaâ€¦lucky folks indeed!