I firmly believe that any food able to stick out its tongue in search of a meal while sitting in a bowl on my kitchen counter is de facto scary. Scary and tasty… Perhaps they aren’t as scary as brussels sprouts or artichokes, but they certainly aren’t benign. However, I can’t help but notice the delicious irony of tiny invertebrates searching for a meal moments before I cook them. I suspect that many people avoid these tasty critters because they aren’t sure how to handle them or how to cook them. They are actually one of the easiest and fastest foods to prepare that I can think of.
Before the recipe, a few general tips:
1) Buy the mussels the same day you cook them. You will lose fewer before cooking time this way (you want them alive when they go into the pan). Fresh seafood = tasty (and safe) seafood.
2) When you get the mussels home, place them on a tray in your refrigerator covered with a moist cloth/paper towel until cooking time.
3) Clean and sort them just before cooking. Rinse them under cool running water to remove any debris. Pull off any beard (the stringy stuff on the side opposite the opening); farm raised mussels are generally quite clean and beardless, but no one wants sand in their food. If any mussels are open, flick or tap their shell with your finger and they should close (perhaps very slowly if they are still cold). If they don’t open back up after cooking, throw them away.
Alrighty, now that the basics are out of the way, on to the recipe! Since I used an unaltered recipe from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller, (“Mussels with Saffron and Mustard”, p. 166 for those that have the book) I won’t post it here (sorry folks). However, you can easily eyeball the ingredients and make a delicious dish, this isn’t a particularly fussy recipe (I suspect that Chef Keller might disagree, perfectionist that he is).
To begin, I melted some butter in a large pan, cooked some minced shallots, confited garlic cloves, thyme, salt and pepper for a few minutes, until the shallots were a bit soft and everything smelled yummy.
I then added a bit of mustard and a few good glugs of white wine and cooked for a couple of minutes more. At this point, I removed the pan from the heat, added a few nice pinches of saffron (yum!) and put a lid on the pan.
This recipe is great for guests because you can do everything up to this point, cover the pan, and let it sit until you are ready to cook the mussels. When you are ready, bring the broth back to a boil, place the mussels in the pan (cleaned and sorted), cover the pan, and cook for about 2 minutes. When the mussels are done they will be opened (if any do not open, toss them out). I then garnished the tasty filter feeders with some parsley and served them with a big hunk of bread.
Amazing! They smelled like the ocean, a bit of mustard, wine, and saffron; they tasted even better! There are hundreds of variations on this dish. One of the most common is to omit the mustard and saffron (leaving shallots, garlic, thyme, white wine, and parsley). Use your imagination!