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Time for musseling up

Published: 
Saturday, August 26, 2017
Chef Contant’s Cioppino included baby octopus, squid, shrimp and mussels.

Chef Quincy Contant introduced his spiced up version of the Italian-American seafood dish Cioppino at the Stingrae Seafood retail outlet in Chaguanas recently and nobody wanted to leave.

Billed as a “mussel sampling”, the event turned out to be more of a test of the outlet’s seafood mix and Contant’s proficiency in rustling up a quick and tasty brew, complete with crispy garlic bread.

It might be that the meatier New Zealand Green-Lipped variety could have worked better in the heavily-seasoned stew, but the smaller black mussel—not the local mangrove variety—essentially did the trick.

For some time, the Asian Green mussel, which is similar to the bigger Pacific variety, was considered to be an invasive species and had actually begun to threaten the hardy indigenous species. It was a battle the bigger and meatier foreign species eventually, and to the chagrin of seafood lovers, lost.

Oyster and crab harvesters frequenting the Blue River and Caroni Swamp area now very rarely see the green version of what is popularly known as “mook”, despite fears by environmentalists that the invasive species could have threatened local marine life.

The Asian greens are not unlike the more popular and costly New Zealand Green-Lipped mussel sold at Stingrae and other seafood outlets in the country. But they come at a premium.

Contant’s brew also included the regular mix of baby octopus, squid, shrimp (though some regular size ones were added to the pot) and regular mussels.

Advisedly, even when a seafood mix is employed, all should not be thrown in the pot at the same time, since the mussels in particular take a longer time to cook.

As a lagniappe were samples of Christine Raeburn’s Healthy Munch snack mix. Visitors who were into the healthy stuff were treated to a sampling of peanuts, pecans, almonds, cashews and a selection of dried fruits.

Raeburn, who has a background in the marketing of wines and spirits, said she only came up with the idea a few months ago when she recognised a demand for the snack at gyms.

The healthy package rounded off Contant’s brew on a delicious Saturday morning.

CIOPPINO BY CHEF QUINCY CONTANT

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

3 carrots, chopped

2 teaspoons salt

4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice

5 cups vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

4 lbs Seafood Mix

METHOD

Heat the oil in a very large pot over medium heat. Add the onion celery and carrots and salt and saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and 3/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and saute 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes with their juices, vegetable stock and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a simmer.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the flavors blend, about 1 1/2 hours.

Add the seafood mix, simmer gently until just cooked through, season the soup, to taste, with more salt and red pepper flakes.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

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