The first day I read through Momofuku, the Pan-Roasted Mussels with OS stood out. The mussels in the photo looked like a delicious mess of good flavours and the real thing didn’t disappoint. The first mussel I put in my mouth was ‘WOW’.
I don’t really cook a lot of seafood at home, not even fish. I love the stuff, but somehow I just feel intimidated by ocean creatures even though I grew up watching my mom butcher fish, crab and lobster like there was no tomorrow. I’m a seafood rookie: I’ve never scaled, filleted, or even bought fish that wasn’t on a styrofoam tray. Being a new at buying seafood, the first place I thought of to get some were the fish tanks at T&T.
Mike was outright against that idea from the start.
Mike: I’m not going to eat mussels from T&T.
Me: Ok, I’ll eat them all myself!
Mike: Yeah…that way I can drive you to the hospital.
Me: Why would I need to go to the hospital?
Eating dead mussels possibly could result in a hospital trip, but I personally think Mike was just being melodramatic. Even so, the mussels at T&T were really sad and mostly dead I think. I just didn’t feel good about buying them, so I had to accept the fact that I was wrong about T&T seafood.
With T&T out of the picture, the next logical place to buy mussels was Whole Foods. There’s a world of difference between T&T seafood and Whole Foods seafood. At T&T there are these little red baskets where you can self-scoop mussels out of a tank of mussels with their shells open. You’re not really sure what kind of mussels they are or where they’re from, you just know they’re mussels. At Whole Foods the mussels are on ice, clearly labelled Salt Spring Island Mussels, and there’s a helpful Fish Boy who’ll hand pick your mussels for you.
Me: So…how do you know they’re alive?
Fish Boy: Oh, if they’re closed they’re alive.
Me: What if they’re open a little bit?
Fish Boy: They could still be OK, you just give them a little tap and if they close up, they’re still good.
Me: So, can you eat them if they’re dead?
Fish Boy: HA HA HA HA HA. No, they’re DEAD!
Me: (in my head) Aren’t they dead when you eat them?
Me: (out loud) Oh. So you can’t eat them if they’re open?
Fish Boy: NO! They’re DEAD! Mussels are really finicky. Some of these guys are going to die by the time you eat dinner.
Me: (in my head) Won’t all of them be dead when I’m eating dinner?
Me: (out loud) Oh. Ok.
After that little exchange Fish Boy put some ice in the bag and didn’t even seal it up. Apparently if you close up the bags the mussels will suffocate and DIE. I really liked Fish Boy. He was super-helpful, even running and jumping over a flat bed dolly to get us a basket even though we were heading over there.
Fish Boy totally made me paranoid about the mussels being DEAD so I hurried home fast to makes sure that they were all alive by the time I got them in the pot.
The mussels are cooked in a pretty typical fashion: pan fried in a little bit of oil then steamed with some sake. What makes them Momofuku is the sauce, the OS, which stands for Oriental Sauce.
There’s a funny little anecdote about OS in the book. Chang likes “appropriating the out-of-date and borderline-racist term Oriental whenever he gets the chance.” So there would be Chang, the only Asian in a kitchen full of non-Asians telling them to toss mussels in the Oriental Sauce. No one else was happy with it (the term being borderline racist and all) so they shortened it to OS.
The OS is made up of shiro, sherry vinegar, ginger, green onions, and garlic. It was pretty salty. I’m starting to think that my white miso has a higher salt quantity than Chang’s. I find everything I use the shrio miso in ends up being a touch saltier than expected.
The mussels were good: plump, juicy and so full of ocean goodness, they almost didn’t even need the OS. I’d cook this again, reducing the amount of miso in the sauce. I was wrong to be intimidated by cooking mussels. Cooking them wasn’t as crazy as I thought and the mussels came out awesome: sweet, umami packed bites of flavour.
As a new seafood cook, I learned one important thing today: don’t buy seafood from T&T unless it’s swimming in one of the tanks and you’re absolutely sure that it’s alive.