Native to the Mediterranean, escabeche is a technique of marinating a dish in an acidic vinaigrette to add flavor and soften texture. In Basque cooking, it is extremely common to see seafood cooked and then marinated overnight to infuse its flavors with tangy vinegar and fruity olive oil. NYC-based chef Alex Raij does just this to mussels before serving them over crostini slathered with homemade mayonnaise.
Raij swears by lemon thyme, and we can see why: It imparts a floral brightness to the vinaigrette that gets absorbed into the mussels, adding a lightness to these crostini. However, she offers rosemary as an alternative to get the same punch of flavor.
To learn more, read "Baby Got Basque."
Recipe adapted from 'The Basque Book,' by Alex Raij and Eder Montero
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes, plus overnight marinating time
4 pounds mussels, scrubbed
Kosher salt, to taste
1 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
2 lemon thyme or rosemary sprigs
1 jalapeño, halved
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
½ cup rice vinegar
½ cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
Sweet paprika, for garnish
Dill fronds, for garnish
Toasted bread and mayonnaise, for serving
1. In a large saucepan, add the mussels and enough water to cover a quarter of the mussels. Season with salt to taste, then bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Steam until all the shells have opened, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and, once cool enough to handle, separate the meat from the shells, discarding the shells. Place the mussels in a bowl.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add leeks and sweat until translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the onion and carrot, and continue to cook until tender, another 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt.
3. While the vegetables are sweating, create a sachet by combining the coriander seeds, black peppercorns, lemon thyme and jalapeño in cheesecloth secured with butcher's twine.
4. Add the sachet, sugar, water and all three vinegars to the vegetables. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until slightly reduced, 5 minutes. The vegetables should be tender but not mushy.
5. Remove the sachet from the mixture and discard. Pour the mixture over the mussels and allow to cool at room temperature. Refrigerate overnight, covered, to marinate the meat. The next day, bring to room temperature before serving.
6. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels and vegetables to a serving dish. Garnish with olive oil, paprika and dill fronds, then serve with toasted bread and mayonnaise.