Move over, hot dogs and deep dish: Chef Ben Sheagren’s wheat beer–steamed mussels—and the accompanying crispy frites—are a true Chicago signature and surprisingly easy to make.
Makes one serving.
Mussels 1 tbsp canola oil 2 small shallots, thinly sliced 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced 1 tbsp thyme, picked over and chopped 2 fresh bay leaves, cracked 1 lb Prince Edward Island mussels, cleaned 9 oz wheat beer, preferably Wittekerke 3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat a sauté pan on medium-low. Add the oil. When oil is hot, add shallots and celery; sauté for two minutes. Add thyme and bay leaves; continue to sauté, uncovered, until shallots and celery are semitranslucent, about two minutes. 2. Turn up heat to medium, add mussels, a very aggressive toss of salt (about 1 tbsp), a slightly less aggressive pinch of ground black pepper (about 1 tsp), beer and butter, and immediately cover. Cook until mussels have opened, about three minutes. 3. Discard any cracked or unopened mussels.
Frites ½ qt canola oil, for frying 1 potato per person, washed, unpeeled Fine-grain sea salt, to taste
1. Pour canola oil two inches deep into a large, heavy pot, affix a deep-fry thermometer to side of pot and heat oil to 300 degrees. Allow at least two inches of space (preferably more) between the oil and the rim of the pot. 2. Cut potatoes lengthwise into thin quarter-inch-thick french fries. Rinse under cool running water for 10 minutes or until water runs clear. Drain and pat dry. 3. Gently place in oil and blanch until tender, about three to four minutes. Remove, drain on paper towels and let cool completely. (This can be done a few hours ahead of time.) 4. Turn oil up to 350 degrees. Fry potatoes until just short of chestnut brown, about five minutes. Drain briefly and toss with sea salt. Serve immediately with aioli.
TIPS • Find Prince Edward Island mussels at Dirk’s Fish (2070 N Clybourn Ave, 773-404-3475) and the Fish Guy (4423 N Elston Ave, 773-283-8422). • Can’t find Wittekerke? Substitute Goose Island 312. • Store mussels in a colander set over a bowl (to collect any liquid) in the refrigerator until ready to use. Drop a few ice cubes on top of the mussels. • To clean, soak mussels in cold water for a few minutes, then carefully remove so as not to disturb any grit that may have settled, and rinse them briefly under cold water. It takes a little bit of muscle (zing!) to remove the tail of fiber called a “beard”: Yank the thread back and forth toward the hinge end of the mussel to wedge out the tuft from the shell. • Hopleaf makes its aioli from scratch, but whisking two minced garlic cloves and the juice from half a lemon into one cup of Hellmann’s makes a fine imitation.
AT HOPLEAF $11 per serving AT HOME $12.45 per serving (bragging rights and beer savings: priceless)