One of our outings included snorkeling in La Jolla, a small and elite village just to the north. There, we ate lunch at La Valencia, a resort hotel dubbed The Pink Lady. And pink she is! We sat outside and enjoyed whatever sandwiches we ordered - mine was most likely something featuring the local seafood. I do love my seafood! Our waiter, a kind man with just enough gray at the temples to be fatherly, asked if we were visitors. One yes, one no. "Will you be visiting my home town in Mexico while you are here?" he asked? David told him that we planned to go south beyond Tijuana the next day. "Well, then, you must go to my cousin's restaurant - he is the maître d' at a fine French restaurant called El Rey Sol." "French?" we both inquired with a hint of curiosity in our voices? "Yes, French."
David and I entered into the richly decorated interior. It was dark and cool in contrast to the brightness of the seaside sun. The look was Old World and combined French wallpapers with Mexican tiled walls and fixtures, with stained and painted paneling below the wainscot. It was comfortable and romantic. We asked for our waiter's cousin. "Lo siento mucho. Este es su día libre." (I am so sorry. It is his day off.) No worries... we planned to eat there anyway.
I returned to my Upstate New York home and immediately set to trying this dish. The recipe I post today is the product of 20 years of fine tuning. But each time I have it, I am transported back to that day spent in Ensenada.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1 shallot, chopped
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chardonnay
1 pound cultivated mussels, scrubbed and debearded (discard any broken or opened mussels)
1/2 cup heavy cream
In a large saucepan, melt butter and cook onion and shallot over medium heat until soft and clear, but not browned - about 5 minutes.
Add the saffron and salt and stir until saffron begins to diffuse its color and flavor - about 30 seconds. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add mussels and cover, and cook over high heat for 3-5 minutes until mussels have all opened. *
Pour broth through sieve and return mussels (or mussel meat) to the broth. ** Add cream and bring just to a boil. Serve with a crusty French bread and a crisp white wine.
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter or soup course
* You may remove the mussel meat and discard the shells at this point, if desired.** If you prefer a more rustic version, you do not have to strain out the onions and shallots.