Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mussel Madness

I have a confession. The only reason that we ever put a mussel into our mouth was because it's one of the lesser taboo foods, like whole fish or pork skins. It's one of those foods that many Americans eat, but most wrinkle their noses at and say, "Ew. No, I would never eat that." We were indulging in a particularly adventurous phase, eating sea urchin sushi and soft shell crab for the first time, when we decided to try a seafood risotto dish containing fish, clams, scallops, shrimp, and of course, mussels.

We didn't love them at first bite. The risotto was served in a tomato sauce that just didn't do it for me with all the seafood. But we decided to be as objective as possible, and when we learned that mussels were cheap at Sea Products, Inc., we decided to give them another go -on our own terms. I'd come across a recipe that Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet magazine, thought was w
orth putting on her webpage, so we gave it a shot. How can you go wrong with a recipe from the ultimate foodie???

Turns out... Mussels are wonderful! The bigger ones, especially, were rich and buttery. The white wine added life and essence to every briny bite. I'd been right to buy a pound and a half: we consumed every last morsel, licking our fingers, and then looked forlornly into our empty bowls. Luckily, we'd thought to buy a crusty baguette with which to mop up the delicious wine and butter sauce laced with teasing hints of our long-gone bivalves.

I have to say, the best part is how inexpensive they are to make. Sea Products, Inc. makes it a habit to sell wine at more affordable prices, so I paid 10 bucks for a bottle of Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc. Butter and onions are something I always have on hand, and a bottle of wine will last through at least four separate mussel-making occasions. At least. Especially for us, because we don't drink alcohol. And mussels are a scant $3.00 a lb, plenty for two people. So for the better part of a week, I can feed us both for about $5 to $6 a night.

Not that I would eat mussels every night of the week. They're good but not that good. I'm just sayin'.

Storytime! Once upon a time, I bought mussels for the first time. Unfortunately, it didn't even occur to me that they were alive. I took them home, slid them into the fridge still wrapped in their plastic and paper, and didn't touch again until the next day. Needless to say, most of them suffocated. Some of them were barely holding on, but I ran them under water to try to revive them. They closed up in relief -then opened again as they relaxed in death. What could I do? I called my friend/chef's-heart-twin-separated-from-me-at-birth and invited her to the funeral.

Mussels in Wine and Butter
(as adapted from Ruth Reichl's recipe, found here)

1 to 1 1/2 lbs mussels, clean and debearded

2 shallots, chopped
1 small clove garlic, diced
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup white wine

Remove mussels from fridge and check each one to mak
e sure they are closed. If they aren't, tap them generously. If they close, set them aside to be cooked. If they don't close, throw them away.

Melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and saute until golden. We did this in the bottom of a pot, instead of a pan or skillet that you would have to transfer the ingredients from.

Add the wine and cook for one minute. Add the mussels to the pot and cover with a lid. After about five minutes, lift the lid and begin removing the mussels that have opened. I say do this at five minutes because mussels should not really cook longer than six, and it will take you a minute to remove the ones that have opened. After six minutes, throw away any mussels that have not opened.

Divide the mussels into bowls, dish onions and wine sauce over top, and ENJOY!

*Notes!! Because mussels are such interesting creatures...
-You can only cook mussels that are alive. That's the way it go
es, so find your local seafood market if you have one.
-While in your fridge, they may open to try to catch their breath. They are only dead if they don't close again when disturbed.
-DO NOT run your mussels under water to try to revive them or see if they'll close! Inhaling fresh water will kill them. I had about eight of them die in my fingers before I learned what was happening...
-Last, but not least! After you buy them, take them home immediately and remove them from whatever they're packaged in. Put them into a bowl with an inch of cold water in the bottom, ice cubes on top if you have any, and covered in a wet towel. (I've read so many different ways to keep mussels that I basically combined all of t
hem. Can't go wrong now, can I?) They should keep for about two days after purchase, but I would eat them as soon as possible. I don't even shop for mine until the day I'm ready to make them.

Oh yes, you know you want to try it. You'll be so glad you did.

See, even Jackie wanted a piece of the action! She didn't care that they had long been devoured by those big mammals she lives with.


  1. Aw, I love your kitty :). This recipe looks good- there's no better way to cook a bivalve than in a little butter and white wine... mmm...

    I have seafood envy right now.

  2. This is the ONLY way to eat mussels, IMO!!! Your post and photos made my stomach growl. Give me a bowl of mussels prepared that way and a big chunk of baguette and I am a happy woman. :)