Don't look for the Richard Blais of yore at his restaurant The Spence. The chef known to reality-television cooking-show viewers as the guy who cooks with a carryall of chemical compounds and high-tech cooking toys has changed focus. Now at his new casual-dining destination in midtown Atlanta, he is cooking classic dishes that highlight unexpected ingredients; pickled walnuts, Spanish mackerel and Chinese sausage are all on the opening lineup. In his recipe for steamed mussels, Blais tweaks the moules and saucisson theme, subbing ginger beer for white wine and calling on sweet Chinese sausage instead of saucisson. It's a 30-minute meal from a chef who has outpaced his 15 minutes of fame.
Mussels with Chinese Sausage and Ginger Beer
Recipe adapted from Richard Blais, The Spence, Atlanta, GA
Yield: Serves 4
Cook Time: 30 minutes
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
¼ medium Vidalia onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-inch fresh ginger, peeled (use the edge of a teaspoon to scrape off the peel) and finely chopped
1 stalk lemongrass--trimmed, tough outer layer removed and stalk bruised with the side of a chef's knife
1 pound Chinese sausage (or Italian sausage, chorizo or merguez), thinly sliced crosswise
3 pounds mussels, scrubbed under cold running water (discard any mussels with cracked or broken shells)
1½ cups ginger beer
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
¼ cup roughly torn cilantro (both leaves and tender stems)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 thick slices Texas toast or sourdough bread
Extra-virgin olive oil
1. In a large pot set over medium heat, add the grapeseed oil, onion, garlic, ginger and lemongrass and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Stir in the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the mussels and cook until they begin to open, about 2 minutes.
3. Pour in the ginger beer, cover the pot and cook until the mussels open, 2 to 5 minutes. Uncover the pot, add the lime and orange juices, scallions, cilantro and butter; spoon the sauce over the mussels to incorporate the flavors. Turn off the heat and let the mussels rest for 5 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, heat a grill pan over medium-high heat until nearly smoking, 1½ to 2 minutes. Brush both sides of the bread slices with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and grill, in batches and on both sides until marked, 1 to 1½ minutes per side (the bread can also be broiled on the highest oven rack). Place one piece of grilled bread in each of four bowls. Divide the mussels, sausage and broth among the bowls and serve.