In Search of Seafood
One of Zuzana’s biggest desires for this Greece trip was to sample fresh seafood caught from the Mediterranean. She had fantasies of restaurants all over Greece serving amazing dishes full of flavor and yet light on the stomach. This fantasy isn’t too far from reality, but a tourist in Athens does need to do their homework if they want to get the good stuff.
Athens is loaded with many eateries, but especially in the touristy area of the Plaka, most of these eateries are the typical tavernas serving the usual fare of gyros and souvlaki. Seafood has been unfortunately minimized to batter-dipped fried calamari and smelts (small fish), grilled octopus, etc. Now I’d definitely tell any traveler to try those dishes at least once, but there is way more to Greek food than just those flavors.
With special thanks to Matt Barrett and many online reviews, Zuzana and I were led out of the Plaka and into the scenic village-like neighborhood of Anafiotika, where we tried a small gem of a place called Palia Taverna Tou Psarra, or “Fisherman’s Tavern”. Again, I find that most of the cuisine isn’t very complex in terms of how it’s made. No secret arrays of seasonings or complicated processes. Just simple foods with beautiful flavors all allowed to stand on their own.
We started off our meal with a dish I’ve seen on several menus throughout our stay in Greece – Mussels Saganaki. Most Americans only know saganaki as “flaming cheese”, but this is far from the case. Saganaki is more about the small one-serving pan it’s cooked in. The act of flambéing the cheese is really just a Chicago Greektown thing, as you won’t see it happen in Greece.
The particular version of saganaki intrigued me simply because it was the first time either of us ever tried mussels. Here’s how it’s done.
- 1 pound of shelled mussels (roughly 35 mussels)
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 medium-sized onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp of mustard powder
- 1/2 cup of dry white wine or dry vermouth
- 1/4 cup of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/4 tsp of crushed red pepper
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- 1/4 tsp of black pepper
- 2/3 pound of feta cheese, broken into chunks
- Clean mussels well. Make sure to remove all traces of sand.
- Place mussels into a pot of boiling water and wait for shells to open.
- Drain and rinse the mussels, then remove from their shells. Discard the shells, but set aside the insides.
- In a frying pan (or saganaki if you have one), heat up the olive oil on medium-high heat.
- Add in the garlic and onion. Cook for a few minutes, then add the mustard and stir.
- Add in all the mussels.
- When the mixture begins to steam, add in the parsley, pepper, and wine, cook for a few minutes until it’s hot.
- Add in the heavy cream and stir until mixture thickens.
- Add feta cheese on top and let it soften just a bit, but not enough that you can’t see it.
Make sure to clean the mussels well. You don’t want to taste sand in your saganaki.
If mussels aren’t for you, then try shrimp.
Zuzana had a lovely fisherman’s salad with a creamy dressing:
I had a delicious piece of grilled salmon with steamed vegetables:
And that’s that. We’re leaving Greece and heading to Slovakia, where we’ll learn how to make homemade goulash in a pot over an open fire. Stay tuned.