I love cooking with mussels. They are plentiful, inexpensive, tasty, and can be used in a variety of simple recipes. A two pound bag goes for around five dollars, depending on where you live and where you purchase them. We recently bought about two dozen very fresh ones at a supermarket in Maine and paid only about two bucks, which cost about the same as the toothpaste we were getting that day! Anyway, if you are a fan of clams and the like, I hope this post will get you to give these sweet, succulent mollusks a try.
To get started you’ll want to clean the mussels well by scrubbing the shells under running water. Using a knife, remove the so-called “beard” which allows the mussels to adhere to ocean rocks. They’re usually not very dirty, though, so this step shouldn’t take too long. Then, you are ready to begin cooking. The classic way of preparing mussels in France or Belgium is moules marinières which couldn’t be easier. Just sweat some chopped onion and garlic in olive oil in a heavy saucepan. When the vegetables are soft but not brown, pour in about a cup of dry white wine and bring to a boil. Add in two to three pounds of mussels cover and steam over high heat for five to ten minutes, shaking the pot from time to time, till all have opened. Discard any mussels which remain closed. Top with finely chopped fresh parsley. Et voilà! There you have it. So quick, so simple, so good. The Belgians serve them with crispy French fries (moules frites), but you could have crusty bread or even pasta with this dish. A variation of this same recipe which we tried once in Normandy is moules à la Normande. It starts out the same, but at the end of cooking you pour in a cup of heavy cream. How bad could that be?
One of the best spicy creations with mussels we ever tried was years ago in a seaside restaurant on Nantucket Island. We liked the Portuguese-style dish so well, in fact, that we went back a second time a few days later to have the same thing! Of course, I don’t know the exact ingredients used at that particular place, but I found one from Martha Stewart which sounds kind of similar. You start out cooking a shallot and several cloves of garlic in a little oil. Add in red pepper flakes to taste, 2 cups of dry white wine, about a half-cup of diced spicy chorizo sausage, and 3 cups of crushed canned tomatoes with juice. Simmer for 15 minutes or so, then add the mussels and proceed as above. Sprinkle with fresh parsley, if desired, before serving.
Mussels are very well suited to any kind of Thai recipe as well. To celebrate our wedding anniversary in August we went to Solo Bistro, a small, but very nice restaurant in Bath, Maine. My mussels appetizer was truly delicious and, from the look of it, quite easy to make. The menu noted that they were cooked in coconut milk, red Thai curry paste, and fresh basil. I suppose before adding those items you could start out with the shallot and garlic as in the previous recipe. Yum! I think I slurped up every drop of the sauce! Finally, I have done mussels as in the above recipes only beginning with fennel, garlic, and onion. This makes a delightful broth.
I hope this post gets your creative juices flowing and, especially if you haven't tried mussels before, that you'll give it a go.