I like to play with my food. There’s nothing like a good presentation to whet our visual and gustatory appetites. Sure, you could serve rice simply topped with mussels and leeks, and it would taste very good. But coating a ramekin with rice, spooning mussels into the middle and inverting it on a plate surrounded with sauce takes virtually no more time and produces a dish that is as attractive as it is tasty.
I got the idea of molding the dish from an old recipe of Jacque Pepin’s, although I treated the mussels, sauce and even the pilaf differently.
Pilaf with Mussels and Leeks, with a nod to Jacques Pepin
2 lb fresh mussels, beards removed and scrubbed
¼ c finely chopped onion – divided in half
½ white wine
2 tsp butter or olive oil
¾ c white rice
About 1½ c water
1/3 c finely chopped celery stalks (reserve the leaves)
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, cleaned and finely chopped
2 tbsp pale celery leaves, chopped
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tsp soft butter
1 tsp flour
¾-cup ramekins or small bowls or cups
Clean and scrub the mussels under cold water. Place half the onion and cleaned mussels in a large saucepan with a tight lid and heat it over high heat. Add the wine and cover the pot, shaking it slightly. Cook until the mussels open. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the butter or oil in a small saucepan and add the remaining chopped onion, cooking it slowly until translucent. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains. Add the water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, covered until the rice is done but not dry, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
While the rice is cooking, remove the mussels from their shells and set aside, keeping them warm. Strain the liquid through cheesecloth to remove any grit and return it to a wiped out pan. Add all but 2 tbsp of the chopped celery and leeks and simmer until tender, about 3 minutes.
When the rice is fully cooked, stir in 1 tbsp of the reserved chopped celery and leeks and a tsp each of celery leaves and parsley. Line the bottom and sides of a ¾-cup mold or ramekin with the rice mixture, pressing into the sides to compress the rice. Place 6-8 mussels in the center and finish with another coating of rice. Ad a little mussel liquid if the mixture seems too dry, but don’t soak it or the rice will fall apart.
Mix together the flour and butter and gradually whisk it into the mussel liquid. Add all but a tsp or so of chopped celery leaves and parsley and season with freshly ground black pepper.
Spoon some of the mussel liquid onto a plate, invert the rice mold, and garnish with chopped celery leaves and parsley.