Something beautiful happens when chefs get drunk at their friends' restaurants, as evidenced by this new pork-filled mussels dish at Flex Mussels in N.Y.C.
Nick Anderer is executive chef and partner at Martina, Maialino and Marta in N.Y.C., so when he's unwinding after work, he's going someplace else. One of his favorite post-shift haunts is the West Village location of Flex Mussels, Alex Shapiro's seafood-centric brasserie that serves over 23 different styles of mussels. About twice a month, Anderer stops at Flex to eat shellfish and drink a little too much. (Shapiro says, "He always eats oysters, a glass of Muscadet and the Dijon mussels.") On a recent late-night visit, lingering as the restaurant closed, he found he couldn't turn his chef brain off.
"Amatriciana had been on my brain for some reason," says Anderer. "It often is when I'm drinking wine. I asked the question 'What if..?' Next thing we know, we're in the kitchen pulling together a late-night snack with all of Alex's leftover mise en place. I recall it being pretty damn good." Et voilà, mussels all'amatriciana.
"All'Amatriciana" is a Roman-style of preparing pasta that's characterized by a spicy tomato sauce studded with guanciale (cured pork jowls), onion and dried chili. Turns out, mussels alla amatriciana, the popular new addition to Flex's menu born out of this late-night brainstorm, works brilliantly. Crispy, tender pieces of pork infuse a delectable meatiness into the spicy-sweet sauce, which coats the mussel bellies as harmoniously as it would a pasta.
"I said I had always wanted to do an amatriciana mussel, and his amatriciana sauce at Maialino is so good, and I thought it would make for a killer mussel base," Shapiro says. After Anderer suggested they play around in the kitchen, they ended up preparing around four varieties before deciding on its current iteration.
"This is how so many of the mussels will get made," she says of the Flex menu, which includes cacio e pepe- and Thai-inspired versions. "A friend will text me, 'Have you ever done moo shoo mussels?' I think at this point, we have done almost any flavor you can imagine."
The amatriciana pizza at Martina, Anderer's actual place of employment, is unmissable too: guanciale, red onions, chili flake and pecorino top a crispy crust that's just-perfectly charred. He says you can amatriciana-ize almost anything.
"Baked eggs in amatriciana sauce is also awesome for breakfast, he says. "I also like poached cod covered in amatriciana sauce. I'm pretty enamored with Roman-style condiments, especially when it comes to cured pork and pecorino."