Mussels in Pink Pepper and Tomato Sauce : Recipe

Pink_pepper_2_2

In fragrance as in fashion, there are waves of trends not only in terms of the style of a composition but also for certain ingredients. Pink pepper (often referred to as baies rose) is one such example. Its bright, resinous fragrance with an effervescent fruity sweetness lends itself to various arrangements, from the citrusy-woody elegance of Ormonde Jayne Isfahan (Isfarkand) to the animalic roses of The Different Company Rose Poivrée, among others. While I was familiar with pink pepper oil, I have never cooked with the peppercorns themselves. Unable to resist the temptation of something shiny and pink, I purchased a small packet and started to experiment. …

Biting into one of these berries is very exciting. The thin, smooth skin hides a tiny berry with a pronounced sweet note reminiscent of sour cherries. Then, a rich piney flavor with a characteristic peppery edge begins to fill the mouth. It also has a juniper like fragrance, but it is quite subtle. It is never overwhelming, however, and unlike black pepper, pink pepper lacks the assertive searing sensation. Although it shares an important flavor constituent, piperine, with black pepper, pink pepper (schinus terebinthifoilius) is not related to black pepper (piper nigrum.) Pink peppercorns are the fruits of the Brazilian pepper tree, native to South America. They are generally sold freeze dried, which preserves their vibrant color beautifully. Experimenting with this lovely spice is easy—just add it to any dish where you would ordinary use black pepper. Although relatively mild, pink pepper has enough flavor to stand up to gamey meats, fish and poultry. A teaspoon added to chocolate cake batter results in something quite special.

One of my favorite ways to use pink pepper is with shellfish. Mussels in tomato sauce make for an effortless recipe: sauté minced garlic in oil, add chopped tomatoes and red wine, parsley and then mussels (cleaned). The dish is finished with a liberal sprinkling of black pepper. I substituted pink pepper and basil leaves with great results. It can be served over pasta, although I prefer it with bruschetta, grilled country bread rubbed with garlic. The velvety tomato sauce with a hint of the fruity, resinous pink pepper, the soft mussels and the hot crispy bread–all of these components make for truly a seductive combination.

Mussels in Tomato and Pink Pepper Sauce

Ingredients
Serves 2 as a one dish meal; 4 if part of a multi-course dinner

1 sack of fresh mussels (about 4 lb)
1-2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups of chopped tomatoes (canned or very ripe fresh ones)*
cup of red wine
1-1½ teaspoon of pink pepper, crushed to powder**
salt to taste
¼ cup of torn basil leaves

Gently scrub mussels, removing the stringy beards and discard those that won’t close or those that are unusually heavy. Place the cleaned mussels in a large bowl and cover with a wet paper towel. Unless you are about to cook them right away, it is a good idea to refrigerate the shellfish.

Heat olive oil in a large lidded pan on medium heat. Add garlic and stir just till it releases its fragrance. Do not allow it to turn golden brown. Add tomatoes and stir. Cook for about 5-7 minutes till tomato flavor concentrates slightly. Add wine, salt to taste and stir again. Taste again and adjust seasonings. Add more salt, if needed. If your tomatoes are too tart, you can add ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of sugar.

Add mussels to the pan and stir to cover them with sauce. Cover the pan and shake it from time to time. Overcooking mussels is easy, therefore as soon as the shells open, remove the pan from the heat. Sprinkle with pink pepper and basil and stir to distribute the seasonings evenly. Serve immediately with bruschetta to soak up the delicious juices.

Bruschetta
Slice crusty wheat bread, sprinkle with good quality extra virgin olive oil and run under broiler or place on the grill until it turns golden. Rub with garlic on both sides.

Ingredient Notes:

* There are few foods I like more than tomatoes. In a sense, this is unfortunate, because most of the time, the supermarket produce is lackluster. Unless you can find good quality tomatoes, I would suggest using a canned variety. I usually buy organic tomatoes preserved with only salt and their own juice, but if I can find them, the San Marzano tomatoes become my top choice. They are the closest thing to vine-ripened tomatoes.
**Feel free to experiment with other kinds of pepper. To crush pepper and other spices, nothing works better than a small stone or ceramic mortar. In a pinch, crush them under the blade of a knife.

Two spice sources I highly recommend given my numerous stellar experiences with them are World Spice Merchants and Penzey’s Spice. If you have other favorites, please let me know. In general, any Indian grocery with a high turnover is likely to be a great source for spices.

Photos of pink pepper and mussels © Bois de Jasmin.

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16 Comments

  • Elle: Why have I never thought to bite into a pink peppercorn? W/out doubt will have to buy some and do so today. And adding some pink pepper to a chocolate cake sounds fantastic! I shall be passing this recipe on to friends who actually do eat mussels. I love these Friday flavour and scent articles. 🙂 January 12, 2007 at 8:16am Reply

  • Marina: Gosh, this sounds incredibly yummy. Just what I like! I printed it out and I am going to make it 🙂 January 12, 2007 at 8:17am Reply

  • newproducts: Yum, yum, yum! I’m always a little afraid of cooking shellfish at home for some reason (fear that they will not be fresh, I think), but I need to try this very soon! January 12, 2007 at 8:49am Reply

  • Fleur.de.Lys: Pink peppercorn has a violet-like (ionone) quality as well, which one does not expect where the word “pepper” is sprinkled. A great find indeed and well worth pursuing in all kinds of dishes. January 12, 2007 at 9:16am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, I was always curious to try cooking with pink pepper. It is a really great spice, and I am starting to see more possibilities for using it in desserts. Try it sprinkled on a piece of chocolate and see what I mean! January 12, 2007 at 12:32pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, please let me know how it turns out. Shrimp in its shell always works well (although it is a bit messy to eat, which is nevertheless fun!) January 12, 2007 at 12:33pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Newproducts, I have never had problems, but you need to smell the shellfish before you select it. It should not have any unpleasant scents about it at all–just fresh, briny, iodine fragrance. If all else fails, I like either shrimp or chunks of salmon with this sauce. In that case, it becomes a perfect pasta sauce. January 12, 2007 at 12:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Fleur.de.Lys, yes, it does. That violet sweetness also made me think of raspberries. A very fascinating berry! January 12, 2007 at 12:36pm Reply

  • Cait: Great recipe idea. Do you think that pink peppercorn will be a passing fad in fragrance, or is it here to stay? January 12, 2007 at 1:08pm Reply

  • Tania: The chocolate with pink pepper that Evan gave me was truly a delight, and slightly perverse. Delicious! I love mussels and will have to give this recipe a test run the next time I have some on hand. January 12, 2007 at 3:33pm Reply

  • k-amber: Now I know how to use pink pepper with creatvity. Mussels look so yummy! Thank you.

    Kaori January 13, 2007 at 3:16am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cait, I wonder myself, but it seems that the olfactory characteristics are interesting enough to use it. We shall see how this shall translate in the wider market. The niche has been in love with pink pepper lately. January 13, 2007 at 12:27pm Reply

  • flacon007: I’ve never been successful at cooking mussels because they are rarely available in good condition here, I guess. But I enjoy eating them when I have a chance.

    But my question is completely different from your topic: I know that you’ve already tried the new Orris scent created by Ormonde Jayne. Could you share your impressions? January 14, 2007 at 12:13pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tania, I must find that chocolate. I do not even remember the manufacturer’s name. January 15, 2007 at 11:47am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kaori, I was surprised to discover how amenable this spice was to experiments. Please let me know how it goes for you! January 15, 2007 at 11:48am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dmitry, yes, the freshness of mussels is the key. I like them very much too.

    It is a spicy woody fragrance, with a rather subtle iris. I did like it, however. Here is a link to my review for more impressions:
    http://boisdejasmin.typepad.com/_/2006/11/orris_noir_perf.html January 15, 2007 at 11:50am Reply

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