“I don’t think I’ll last much longer,” my mother said putting down her spoon.
Well, it’s been nice knowing you, I thought, wondering if she was suddenly struck by an episode of food poisoning she knew to be fatal. At least we’ve established that those precooked mussels she’s had in the fridge for over a month -to which she calls attention every time she opens the fridge in my presence- were indeed not to be trusted.
This morbid moment proudly brought to you by the province of Québec, exporters of frozen seafood and grim moments of existentialism since 1975.
But let’s backtrack a bit.
“Is this really going to work?” asked my mother as we made slits in two cryovac-ed pouches of Sogel pre-cooked mussels hailing from Prince Edward Island (imported through Montréal). Yea, I turned cryovac into a verb.
As I sawed off the top bit of sealed plastic so it wouldn’t melt away due to contact with the coils of the toaster oven, I shrugged and went about my business of doctoring up a bath for the somewhat suspect looking mollusks being zapped in the microwave.
After scouring the fridge for things to embellish the greyish frozen liquid generously
supplied by the purveyors in the package of frozen precooked seafood, I decided on pancetta, green onion and some garlic which I sautéed in clarified butter, seasoned with salt, hot pepper flakes and thyme then doused that with about half a bottle of dry white wine. Once the alcohol cooked out, I added a cup and a half of the chicken stock I had previously made from some unfortunate whole chicken I roasted.
After 4 minutes in the microwave, I tentatively checked the mussels. “I’m not sure what we should be looking for,” I offered “but at least we know they’re cooked.”
So I threw them in the pot with the makeshift sauce..
and hoped for the best.
The meal itself turned out quite well.
The mussels did not kill anyone, or even give us food poisoning. In fact, they weren’t half bad. The fascinating thing about all this is that I have a strong bias against things that are precooked, and when possible, would rather just get live mussels from the grocery store.
And this is where I get existential. One of the things I like so much about cooking is the satisfaction of transforming something from its un-actualized (and sometimes inedible) state into an experience. If our lives are truly defined by the sums of our actions, existentially speaking, life then boils down to our experiences. In some ways, cooking is the most concrete experience of existentialism. With very little (a knife and in some cases a source of heat) coming between the person acting and the thing acted upon, we create an experience for ourselves and others that can truly change the way we nourish ourselves. When you cook, you’re taking control of every aspect of the experience that defines you.
While I suppose I see the merit in being able to safely keep 2 lbs of mussels in a tidy vacuum sealed pouch for months on end, somehow it takes away from the experience.
While we threw away the extra mussels and leftover fries, my mom did keep the one component I made from scratch: the broth I made to conceal the uninspired quality of those shifty little precooked Canadian mollusks that tried to rob us of life itself… if not by killing us literally, then by killing the experience.