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Halibut and Mussel Stew with Fennel, Peppers and Saffron

Car-less Saltaire
Years ago, I had a boss named Susanne who had a wonderful house on Fire Island.  She was very kind in opening the place up to her staff—particularly those of us juniors who had few options on summer weekends: broil in the city or take a very long subway ride to reach a crowded beach.  So Saltaire, the name of the little ‘village’ the house was in, was extra-ordinarily inviting.  There are no cars on Fire Island.  In fact the whole place is criss-crossed with wooden boardwalks.  Once you get off the ferry from Long Island, you put all your gear into a wagon and head to wherever you are staying.
 My hostess was one of the first “foodies” I’d ever met, although I don’t think the term was in use then.  And it was she who introduced me to mussels.  Mussels attached themselves to wooden piers that formed the breakfront on the bay side of Fire Island.  Susanne had spent the better part of the summer checking on the mussels’ growth at one particular pier near her house.  The mussels progressed nicely until, finally, a weekend when I was there was deemed the perfect time to harvest them and enjoy their salty goodness in a rich broth of garlic and tomatoes.  Alas! They were gone! Someone else had made off with Susanne’s mussels!  Now you would think we could have just moved on to the next piling.  No such luck.  Apparently, everyone in Saltaire loved mussels and had commandeered every last one. 

Fortunately, mussels have entered the food vocabulary to such an extent that you can find them easily in the supermarket.  These are all farm raised of course but they’re cleaner that way and their tiresome beards have been removed.   They are wonderful by themselves with the simple garlic broth and parsley that’s the backbone of their recipe.  But this recipe, which has echoes of Spain, includes Halibut, and a very good inclusion it is.  Mussels are not noted for their flesh.  Halibut is. So in one dish, you get the subtle sweetness of the mussels and the satisfying ‘meat’ of the halibut.  I found this recipe in Fine Cooking Magazine.  It just looks like it’s complicated.  It really isn’t and it really delivers on several levels—a wonderful taste of the sea and a marvelous way to go meatless.  Here’s the recipe:

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