I never really understood the joy in eating a giant bowlful of mussels but then again, I do love sauce. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy dipping a fresh, buttered piece of bread, into a delicious sauce. And this Ancho chilli sauce really is delicious. I have had it a number of times and by the end of the meal someone is sheepishly drinking the remnants out of their bowl or foregoing their seafood for bread and sauce.
But, I’ve got to tell you, without the mussels (or clams) this dish just isn’t the same. I don’t think you can replicate the briny goodness that fresh mussels gives to a sauce with anything else. The garlic, onion and sundried tomato gives it a wonderful sweetness and the ancho chilli gives it a very mild heat and a definite unique flavour, but without the salty seafood freshness, it just isn’t the same. So, moral of the story, if you are going to use the mussels, make sure they are uncooked when you buy them so that you can cook them straight in the broth.
I first tasted a variation of this recipe at my boyfriend’s parents house. I am not sure where they found it but it was one of the few times that I knew I needed to replicate it at home. I’ve made it a number of times since then and it is always feels like an indulgence (seafood always does) but is light at the same time. Normally, I serve it with some whole wheat baguette and oven fries, but this time we opted for pasta for a more substantial meal. I am still partial to the whole bread-dipped-in-sauce thing but the pasta was good too. If you do go that route, make sure to finish cooking your pasta in the sauce, it helps with the absorption of flavour.
I highly recommend using uncooked mussels for this dish. The liquid released from the mussels as they are cooked in the sauce makes a huge difference to the taste. Also, it's best to be under control of the doneness of the mussels, if you heat them up once they are already cooked they risk getting overcooked and chewy.
Personally, I enjoy eating with with crusty, buttered bread. This time, we made it with pasta for a more substantial meal. If you go this route, it is important to finish off cooking the pasta in the ancho chilli sauce, in order to incorporate the flavour more completely.
Note: If you are making this with pasta, put the water on at the point when you are reducing your sauce. Cook the pasta al dente and add to the saucepan once the mussels are starting to open. Stir uncovered until mussels are completely open and the pasta has absorbed some of the sauce.
Clean and de-beard all of your mussels. Set aside in a bowl in the refrigerator while you prepare the sauce.
Place your dehydrated chilli in a small bowl of hot water and set aside.
In a large saucepan (that has a cover), heat up canola oil. Once hot, add garlic, onion and sundried tomatoes. Saute until softened but not brown.
Chop up your re-hydrated ancho chill, discarding the stem but keeping the seeds. Add to the saucepan.
Add 1 cup of vegetable (or chicken) broth and simmer to reduce by 1/3 of the way (about 10 minutes).
Add 3/4 cup whole milk and stir.
Make sure the mixture is at a simmer and add your mussels. Cover the pan and wait for the mussels to open. As soon as they have opened remove from heat and serve immediately. Discard any mussels that haven't opened