There are abundant reasons to put mussels on your shopping list this fall and winter. I was recently reminded of just how local and sustainable these shellfish are by blogger Richard Auffrey who sang the praises of mussels on his site, The Passionate Foodie.
Mussels Do Have a Season
Taste is important and cool weather is when our local mussels are full of flavor. The folks at Maine Sea Grant explained, “Mussels can be harvested all year, but most fishing is in the winter when the taste and quality of the meat is best (before the mussels begin spawning in spring and summer).”
While some Massachusetts mussels come to market, most of the fresh, live, blue mussels we see in local stores are from Maine or Prince Edward Island. Maine claims the US title to have, ”historically ranked first in mussel landings.” Their harvest includes both wild mussels gathered along the rocky coast and farmed mussels from the bays. In aquaculture, from seed to harvest, these filter feeders take only 12-18 months to reach your table.
Perhaps the best known recipe for these bivalves is Mussels Mariniere. For this lovely French inspired dish, I chop a shallot, a clove of garlic, some parsley, thyme, and sauté those in butter to soften. Then I add half a bottle of crisp white wine, bring it to a boil, and add my cleaned, debearded, and lively mussels. (Always discard any mussels that don’t close up when you tap them.)
I cook the mussels for 3-5 minutes – until they just open. Pour the whole thing into a big bowl and serve with crusty bread.
Here's a good video on how to prep your mussels for cooking from the Epicurous.com Around the World in 80 Dishes series.
Buy your mussels from a trusted fishmonger. I was at New Deal Fish Market in Cambridge recently and watched one of their staff check each of the mussels he was gathering for a customer.
Ready to Party
The beauty of most mussel recipes is that you can easily make them for two or for twenty. I once served the first course of mussels for 30 people at a friend's house while he prepared the rest of the meal. Fortunately, he had a large version of this Granite Ware stock pot ready for the job. At home, I use my All-Clad 12-Quart Multi Cooker.
Mussels act like chameleons in the kitchen. That’s why you’ll see them on menus from diners and pubs to French, Italian, Asian, and modern American restaurants. A big plate of mussels fits into today’s concept of shared plates that is popular with both chefs and diners. And, a creative cook can change up the flavor profile as often as he or she wants.
Switch the shallot to green onions; herbs to red chili, lemongrass, and cilantro; and wine to coconut milk with a dash of fish sauce, and you have Thai style mussels.
Give me a bag of mussels and I'll ad-lib what to do with them from what's on hand in my kitchen. If you prefer recipes to ad lib cooking, here are a few versions for mussels that are pretty close to the way I make these dishes.
Mussels Mariniere from Putney Farm (And when they say 20-30 minutes, that is the start to finish time to prepare the dish, not cooking time.)
Ibearian style mussels with chorizo and tomato (You'll find this style in both Spain and Portugal.)
Next Up on the Topic of Mussels
In an upcoming post, Ed and I will tell you about some of our favorite mussel dishes when dining out in the Boston area. We would also love to hear your opinons. Let us know. Add a comment here – send it to us on twitter or send us an email.
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Words: Penny & Ed Cherubino
Photos: ©2014 Penny & Ed Cherubino