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Jul 31, 2014
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Intelligent Content For The Food Fascinated
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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By the Book: Lou Rook’s Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels in a Spicy Tomato Vermouth Broth with Grilled Crusted Bread

February 26th 03:02pm, 2013

The Chesterfield Valley wasn’t always The Chesterfield Valley. When I was a kid, that area was grassland and soccer fields as far as the eye could see. Oh, and there was The Smokehouse Market. After two or three hours of running after a black-and-white speckled ball (or away from it, in my athletically inept case), my prize for the energy exerted was lunch at The Smokehouse Market. We’d go up to the counter and stand on our tippy toes to order a smattering of house-made items, forming makeshift sandwiches out of fresh cheeses and roasted vegetables on thickly sliced whole-grain bread. Dessert was a chocolate chip cookie from the counter right next to the cash register that my sister and I had to split. When the flood devastated the area in ’93, I worried that my beloved lunchtime market had gone with it. Indeed, it had filled with several feet of water, as had Annie Gunn’s restaurant that sat next to it. But fortunately, Tom Sehnert, who owned both eateries, planned to rebuild.

Enter chef Lou Rook. Together, Rook and Sehnert created a new concept for Annie Gunn’s – one that infused fine-dining reliability with farm-to-table roots. After a series of slow changes to the menu, everything from the meat to the produce to the cheese came from local farms, and the food that Rook created using these ingredients was fantastic. Twenty years later, chef Rook has released his first cookbook, Rook Cooks: Simplicity at Its Finest, filled with many of the mainstay dishes that have made Annie Gunn’s worthy of a trip to Chesterfield for even the most jaded critics of West County.

As we finish up our month of cooking from cookbooks penned by St. Louis culinary stars, I was ecstatic to cook from one of my very favorite chefs in town (Bonus: Chef Rook is an incredibly nice guy.). This recipe for mussels epitomizes what I believe Rook is trying to accomplish with this book: quality yet easy-to-find ingredients that are prepared simply to provide big flavor. (I must note that not all of the recipes in this book do so, such as those which call for making stocks and sauces that, on their own, would take many hours and dollars.) And boy did this one deliver. The 1/3 cup of minced garlic and the full tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes tossed into the broth made for a load of flavor that tickled my taste buds with every bite. While milder palates may prefer to knock the garlic and pepper flakes down a few notches, my heat-loving household happily sopped it up with the grilled bread I served alongside.

For the tomatoes, Rook recommends the only canned tomatoes that you should ever buy: San Marzanos, available at just about any corner grocery. I opted for the white wine I had in the fridge, but if you happen to have vermouth lying around, by all means pop it open for this savory and spicy broth. I do wish Rook was a bit clearer on the rest of the ingredient list, however. After all, what exactly is pure olive oil and did I really need it? A call to Extra Virgin, An Olive Ovation in Clayton quickly answered that question: “Mussels will taste better with extra virgin,” owner Marianne Prey quickly affirmed. And what is clam broth? A little research proved that it’s just the juice that canned clams are packed in. The grilled bread mentioned in the title of Rook’s recipe was left out of the recipe completely, but figuring out how to make it proved easy.

The instructions, however, were fairly spot-on, especially the note on how to de-beard the mussels and smoothing out the sauce with a touch of honey. It worked like a charm. The only tweak I’d recommend: more mussels. With a 28-ounce can of tomatoes and a full 2 cups of clam broth, this broth was begging for more of those meaty little prizes inside the shell. Next time, I’d double the number of mussels and make this a meal for four.

Twenty years after the flood, I’m still a regular at both of Rook’s eateries as they both continue to hold a special place in my heart. On the day my boyfriend and I brought home our first puppy, we sat on the patio at The Smokehouse and ate fresh cheese and roasted vegetable sandwiches. While The Valley may now just, unfortunately, be The Valley, Annie Gunn’s and The Smokehouse Market remain the gems among a breathtakingly large line of chain restaurants. And that makes this cookbook a treasure of its own.

Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels in a Spicy Tomato Vermouth Broth with Grilled Crusted Bread
2 Servings 

24 Prince Edward Island Mussels
¼ cup pure olive oil
1/3 cup minced garlic
1 Tbsp. red peppercorn flakes
1/3 cup dry vermouth or white wine
1 28-oz. can crushed tomato, preferably San Marzano, Muir Glen or your homemade crushed tomatoes
2 cups clam broth (Note: I used the juice from canned clams.)
Italian parsley
Basil (optional)
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. honey (optional)
Kosher salt, to taste
Butter (optional)

• Scrub the outer shells of the mussels and de-beard them. Set the mussels aside.
• Add the pure olive oil to a 4-quart stockpot and begin heating the oil on high heat.
• Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook them to a light toast.
• Deglaze the pot with the vermouth, then add the crushed tomatoes and clam broth. Let the pot simmer for 30 minutes.
• Add the mussels and steam them until they open.
• Lift the mussels out of the sauce with a strainer or slotted spoon and place them onto a platter or into two bowls.
• Finish the sauce with Italian parsley, basil, 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and salt to taste.

Presentation:
• Spoon the sauce over the top of the mussels and garnish to your liking with fresh herbs.

Notes:

  1. To de-beard mussels, simply use a rag to pull the beards from the mussels while you are washing them. The beard is the part of the mussel that hands outside of the shell.
  2. If the sauce seems a little on the acidic side, smooth it out with honey.
  3. Prince Edward Island is world-renowned for their high-quality mussels with distinctive flavor – they truly do set the standard. The broth can be made in advance and can hold up to a week in the refrigerator.
  4. Butter is always good in anything, so you can add a little to finish the sauce if you would like.

Recommended Beverages:
Light lager, wheat beer, riesling, Gewürztraminer or Missouri Traminette

What’s your favorite memory from The Smokehouse Market or Annie Gunn’s? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of Rook Cooks. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, we’d like to congratulate Joe, whose comment on last week’s By the Book has won him a copy of Stone Soup Cottage: A Vignette of Seasonal Recipes. Joe, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew. 

By Stacy Schultz

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8 Responses to “By the Book: Lou Rook’s Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels in a Spicy Tomato Vermouth Broth with Grilled Crusted Bread”

  1. Chris Brickler Says:
    February 26th, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    Having dinner with my cousins at Annie Gunn’s over Christmas Break…a mini family reunion!

  2. Robert WIlliams Says:
    February 26th, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    My favorite memory from Annie Gunn’s is my very first visit. Our waiter from another fine establishment offered to meet us at Annie Gunn’s to walk us through his favorite items on the menu. As you can imagine it was a wonderful journey of food and wine. We couldn’t imagine a better evening until the check came and it was paid in full by what was supposed to be our guide and our treat. What a great place to experience food, family and friendship.

  3. Amy Says:
    February 26th, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Going there with my parents for lunch after my jr ring ceremony years ago – felt so fancy!

  4. Lizzie Says:
    February 26th, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Annie Gunn’s is my favorite and I have many great memories from the meals I’ve shared with family and friends there. But my best memory has to be the birthday dinner when my now husband told me he loved me for the first time.

  5. Matt Higgins Says:
    February 26th, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    How do enter the drawing to win this wonderful coobook?

  6. Amy Wallerstein Says:
    February 26th, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Of course, Annie Gunn’s has the best steaks, but they also have the best hamburger around. The combination of different types of beef melts in your mouth.

  7. Earen Hummel Says:
    February 26th, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    I am too new to the area to have memories of either (only 1 year here). I will have to try both restaurants now that I know of them!

  8. Chris Hartley Says:
    February 26th, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    The blackberry pies that The Smokehouse makes are the best pies I’ve ever had. They are amazingly delicious! The sugared crust and plump, whole blackberries are divine!

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