My “let’s pretend I’m in Spain” theme continues, this time aided and abetted by the fact that my husband’s out of town. I love my Billy goat dearly, but, you see, he’s allergic to shellfish. Ergo, when he’s away, I make myself a big bowl of mussels. The mussels themselves weren’t the world’s greatest—a tad on the small side—but they were very clean, fairly healthy, and, as an added bonus, came from within 200 miles (Rhode Island). The treatment, on the other hand, was just right.
Now, a word on cooking with shellfish. As you might have gathered from the goats, I’m originally from the Midwest, which means that I’m always anxious when cooking any kind of seafood other than catfish. Here’s what you do with mussels. First, make sure they’ve been stored on, or, preferably in, ice. Look for bags with large mussels, mostly closed, that smell like salt water. Take them home and put them on ice in your refrigerator. About an hour before you’re ready to cook them (hopefully the same day you purchased them), put them in ice cold water. Change the water several times to release any dirt or sand. Scrub the shells and remove the “beard.” Throw out any shells that smell bad or that are cracked. It’s OK for the shells to open up in the bowl, but living mussels should be skittish and try to close up when tapped. If not, that means they’re dead, and you don’t want to eat them.
Mussels are best treated simply. Just steam them in some wine, with some aromatics, then eat them with a bit of lemon. Have some good bread on hand to sop up the sauce, and you’re set. If you want to get creative you could boil the liquid down after the mussels have opened, or add some butter or cream (tarragon and cream is a classic combination). They don’t keep, so only make as many as you and your mussel-loving friends can eat in one setting…which might be a lot, depending.
Mussels with Garlic and Parsley
About 1 lb fresh mussels, cleaned
1 c. white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
handful of parsley, chopped
1/4 c. dehydrated cherry tomatoes
1) Put everything but the mussels, plus 1 c. water, in a large skillet with a lid. Put the lid on and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes.
2) Carefully add the mussels and put the lid back on. Jiggle the pan while the mussels steam. Within 3 to 5 minutes, most of the mussels will have opened—that means they’re done. Turn off the heat and throw away any that don’t open.
3) Transfer the mussels to a bowl and pour the broth over them. If you’re worried about sand and/or grit and don’t mind losing your aromatics, strain it. Squeeze some lemon over the mussels and eat!