Cookbook Recipe #7: Mussels

This is one of those recipes that will ruin restaurants for you. Steamed mussels is a staple in most French/European restaurants and often runs up the bill anywhere between 15-20$ depending on the place. It’s a great appetizer for a group, but often can be adapted to become a pasta main or otherwise. I’m here to tell you though, to never order mussels at restaurants ever again. The reason why, is because it is easy, cheap and it’s a guaranteed hit at home.

Before I get into outlining some recipes that I have done with these wonderful bivalves, let me outline the benefits to further convince you.
1) They’re cheap. A bag of a pound of mussels usually sets me back around 8$ depending on where I get them. I typically purchase them at Whole Foods where I know they’re sourced sustainably and are quite fresh. Usually I call a day before or day of, to ensure quality.
2) They’re full of nutrients. Now I’ll be honest, I’m not usually someone who cares about nutrients, and I really don’t pay attention, but since I’m writing to convince you to start cooking mussels, I’ll waste some lines here. Essentially, they are packed with omega-3s, vitamin B-12s and are high in protein.
3) They’re sustainable. Mussels like other shellfish (oysters, clams) are essentially living water filters. They help make the marine environment in which they are grown cleaner and more hospitable for other organisms. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it is the most sustainable farmed seafood and is highly recommended to be consumed.
If these reasons aren’t enough to convince you, then try out some of my recipes and see for yourself. I will outline two recipes that I have done as well as showcase some other ways you can use mussels. The first recipe is a classic French-inspired recipe using bacon. The second is a Spanish-inspired recipe using chorizo and grape tomatoes.

Ingredients:

Mussels – Duh, I usually measure out 1/2 lb to 1 lb per person depending on whether it’s a main or appetizer. If an appetizer, assume each person will have about 6-8 and consider a 1lb bag may have around 36-42. As I mentioned above, I purchase mine from Whole Foods, but if you go to your local fishmonger or grocer, I would check whether they have been frozen or not. Whole Foods typically freezes them during transport and has them defrosted by the time they’re in the grocery.
Bacon – I mean, I’ve written so many recipes with bacon in it, that’s its expected to be here. Thick cut, although it really doesn’t matter. About 4-5 rashers finely diced.
Chorizo – Something spicy, if possible get one without casing, I use about 1/2lb for one dish or two links.
Grape Tomatoes – These will become flavor bombs when cooked with the mussels. 1/2 a box or however much you want can go in.
Shallots – These smaller, sweeter onion varietals are wonderful in a flavorful mussel broth. I typically use 3-4 shallots for a dish. You can also substitute for just any sweet onion.
Garlic – Use as much as you want, I spring for 4-5 cloves, finely minced.
Parsley – A nice bit of freshness goes a long way.
Lemon – It’s seafood, get a nice lemon to add some brightness and acidity to the dish.
Chili Flakes – Only for those inclined, some chili flakes are always nice.
White Wine – I choose something drinkable. Something not too sweet, but also not to dry. My go to is the Chateau St. Michelle Riesling, but I’m also quite fond of Argentinian Torrontés wines.

Preparation:

Let’s talk about mussel care first (insert flexing imagery here). Usually, once I buy my bag of mussels, I get home and take it out of the wrapped paper, keep in mind, it is very likely that they are still alive. Unless you plan on cooking them right away, my recommendation is to keep them in their mesh bag and submerge them into a bowl water. You can technically keep them for three days, but change their water every couple hours. This will keep them fresh and alive until you are ready to cook. In the meantime, prepare the other ingredients.



Method 1:
– Dice the bacon, shallots and garlic and set aside.
– Rough chop the parsley.

Method 2:
– Remove the skin of the chorizo and set aside.
– Dice shallots and garlic.
– Rough chop the parsley.

Mussel Care:
– When you’re selecting mussels, check to see how long they’ve been on the shelf, ideally caught the day before. They should smell fresh and not fishy. Fishy means they’re starting to die.
– As you submerge them in water, they will sorta self-clean their insides. But it is definitely recommended to scrub the shells (don’t go too crazy, just make sure to remove any sediment.
– Remove any beards or hair stuck to the outside of the shells.
IMPORTANT, if there are any open shells, discard them. That means they are dead and are already developing bacterial toxins.

Method:

Method 1: The “French Style”
Step 1: Render out the bacon in a deep pan. Once cooked to your desired texture, remove the majority of the bacon fat (you won’t need it for the rest of this recipe, so feel free to save it, toast your bread in it, just don’t dump it). Add 3 tablespoons of butter. The French love their butter, so you will too.
Step 2: Add the shallots and garlic (and chili flakes if you’d like) and cook until softened and fragrant at medium heat for about five minutes.
Step 3: Add in your mussels and toss vigorously. Add a cup of white wine and cover. Shake and let cook for 3-4 minutes. Check to see if the shells are opened after a couple minutes. Once the majority are opened, remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and parsley. As I mentioned, it should only take at most 15 minutes to cook.
Step 4 (Optional) – A good amount of sauce is made so if you want to reduce it, simply take the mussels out, and blast the liquid on high heat. It should reduce and become a nice luxurious broth to top your mussels.

Serve with some really crusty bread (a lot of sauce will remain and it’s really savory and fragrant). You can also add pasta to the sauce and toss it in as well. It truly is a simple and beautiful meal or dish and will ruin restaurants mussels forever.

Method 2: The “Spanish” Style
Before I begin, I need to add the disclaimer to say that I’ve never been to Spain, and that this recipe was inspired by Spanish flavors, bold and vibrant flavors that lend itself well to this dish. The main substitutions are: chorizo instead of bacon, good olive oil instead of butter and the addition of tomatoes.
Step 1: Brown the chorizo in a deep pan with a couple tablespoons of good olive oil. The sausage will have fat as well so feel free to reduce the amount of olive oil usage.
Step 2: Add shallots, garlic and tomatoes. Keeping the tomatoes whole and letting them blister and gain some char and flavor will help elevate this dish. Add chili flakes at this point as well to add an additional kick. Cook until fragrant around 5 minutes.
Step 3: Add in your mussels and toss vigorously. Add a cup of white wine and cover. Shake and let cook for 3-4 minutes. Check to see if the shells are opened after a couple minutes. Once the majority are opened, remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and parsley. As I mentioned, it should only take at most 15 minutes to cook. Your sauce should be a brighter reddish color as compared to the first method.
Step 4 (Optional) – A good amount of sauce is made so if you want to reduce it, simply take the mussels out, and blast the liquid on high heat. It should reduce and become a nice luxurious broth to top your mussels.

Serve with bread as well or pasta.

There you have it, a very simple and yet flavorful recipe. It’s cheap, it’s delicious, it’s a perfect blank canvas to try many different types of cuisines and flavors. Want to try some South East Asian? Replace the wine with coconut milk and add lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, Thai basil and Thai birds-eye chili. Maybe Italian? Use pancetta, a bit of tomato paste and crushed tomatoes, basil, and some shredded parmesan. Whenever I make paella, I don’t need a whole pound of mussels for the dish so I always use the leftover mussels to cook something like this. It’s a very versatile dish and does not require much preparation. Try it out, and send back some of your creations. I would be honored to try them.


Enjoy!

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