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Oceana Magazine Summer 2011: Chef’s Corner: Rick Moonen

Chef Rick Moonen is a superstar in the world of sustainable seafood.

At Rick Moonen’s rm seafood in Las Vegas’s Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Moonen uses the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide to plan his menus.

Since Nevada is landlocked, fish is flown in daily and Moonen won’t allow any “red-list” seafood in his kitchen. But Chef Moonen isn’t new to this scene. In fact, he was one of the first chefs in the country to be vocal about the importance of seafood sustainability.

He is a founding member of the Seafood Choices Alliance, a non-profit organization that encourages other chefs and the food industry to make sustainable choices about seafood.

Before moving to Las Vegas, Moonen cooked at a long list of restaurants in his native New York, including Le Cirque, Le Relais and coincidentally, Oceana Restaurant.

When he’s not cooking, Moonen travels the country educating people about ocean conservation and overfishing. He has also testified about environmental policy issues in Washington, D.C. and New York, and has authored a cookbook, “Fish Without a Doubt,” a guide to buying and cooking fish.

In 2010, Chef Moonen donated a dinner at his restaurant to the auction at Oceana’s Hamptons Splash event.


Mussel Chowder

Serve this with big, flaky biscuits. Serves 8


For the mussels:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons minced shallots or onion

3 pounds mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded

2 cups dry white wine


For the chowder:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups finely chopped onions

2 cups finely chopped leeks (white and some light green parts)

1 cup finely chopped carrots

1 cup finely chopped celery

2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf, and the green from 1 leek, tied together with kitchen string

for an herb bouquet

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons Madras curry powder (or your favorite blend)

3 cups quick vegetable stock

1 russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch dice (bout 1 ½ cups)

2 large red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/3-inch dice

1 cup heavy cream

Juice of 1 lemon (zest the lemon for garnish before juicing it)


For garnish:

Grated zest of 1 lemon

¼ cup finely chopped fresh chives


For the mussels:

Put the oil, garlic, and shallots or onion in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Cook for just a minute or two, until the shallots or onion are softened and the garlic fragrant – you definitely don’t want to brown this. Crank the heat up to high, add the mussels and white wine, and cover the pan. Cook, giving the skillet a solid shake a few times, until the mussels open, 6 to 7 minutes. Set a strainer over a large bowl and pour the mussels into the strainer. Save that beautiful liquid for the chowder.


For the chowder:

Melt the butter in a  stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the onions, leeks, carrot, celery, and herb bouquet and season with salt and black pepper (be careful with the salt; the mussel liquid will be salty).

Cover and sweat the aromatics until they’ve softened, about 5 minutes. Take out the herb bouquet for a moment and stir in the flour and curry powder. Cook, stirring often, until four/roux smells toasty, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the stock and the liquid from the mussels and bring to a simmer. Drop the herb bouquet back into the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, kick the heat up to medium-high, and bring back to a simmer. Cut the heat back and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, pull the mussels from their shells. Toss the shells into the trash, reserve the mussels, and add any liquid and aromatics to the chowder.

Bring the cream to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Boil for a minute or so to reduce the cream slightly, then turn off the heat. When the potatoes are tender, remove the herb bouquet. Stir in the mussels and cream, add the lemon juice, and taste for salt and pepper.

Ladle the chowder into wide soup plates, garnish with the lemon zest and chives, and serve.