I love mussels. To me, they are just as delicious as oysters but they are WAY cheaper. Also, as shellfish goes, they are stupid simple to prepare. Also, from what I have read, it is actually possible to farm mussels without destroying the environment. Also, mussels are full of vitamins and iron. Woo hoo!
Below you will find a primer on how to prepare mussels, followed by ingredient lists for Belgian, Provencal and Thai mussels. Of course, you can use the basic technique using flavour combinations of your own devising as well! Finally, there are some suggestions for how to make soups from your leftover mussel broth (if you have any). Enjoy!
THE BASICS OF MUSSEL PREPARATION
- Unwrap your mussels as soon as you get them home. They are still alive, and they need to breathe. You can keep them loosely wrapped in the fridge for up to a day, but I always try to eat them the same day that I buy them.
- Sort through the mussels. They should be closed tight. It is common, especially in hot weather for mussels to open up. If they are open, even a bit, give them a few taps on a hard surface. If they are alive, they will close up. Throw away any mussels that won’t close. They are dead and are not safe to eat.
- Put the good mussels in a big bowl of cold water and let them soak for 20 minutes. The mussels will take the clean water in and expel any sand or grit that they have been hanging onto. This is an important step. Gritty mussels are repulsive.
- While the mussels are cleaning themselves, you can prep the ingredients for steaming.
- When its time to cook the mussels, lift them out of the water so that you leave the grit behind. If you pour it all into a colander all of the grit will end up on you mussels again.
- The mussels that I have been getting are impressively clean, but if your mussels have a beard or stuff clinging to their shells you should get rid of that. Grab onto the beard and yank it toward the shell hinge (if you yank it the other way you will kill the mussel). Scrub the shells with a stiff brush if necessary.
- Heat up your fat on medium heat (fats are specified in the recipes below) in a large skillet or pot. Make sure that this skillet or pot has a lid (you will need it later).
- Add the aromatic vegetables to the fat and cook them until they are soft, but not brown (aromatic vegetables specified in the recipes below).
- Turn up the heat to high and add the mussels, liquid and herbs (liquids and herbs specified in the recipes below). Resist the urge to pour extra liquid into the pot. Too much liquid will boil your mussels instead of steaming them and dilute the flavour of the broth that comes from the mussels themselves.
- As soon as the liquid comes to a boil, cover the mussels and steam them for about 5 minutes, or as long as it takes for the mussels to fully open. It is useful to have a glass lid so that you can stop cooking them as soon as they open (they will become tough otherwise). I don’t have one, so I just watch for when a bit of steam starts to escape from the sides of the lid and then I check on them
- Turn the heat off and discard any mussels that did not open. If the mussels were alive they would have opened up as they started to heat up. Mussels that did not open were already dead and are not safe to eat.
- Stir in the finishing flavours just before serving.
BELGIAN STYLE MUSSELS
I am a real fan of the foods that Belgium is famous for…dark chocolate, pomme fritte (really good french fries served with mayonnaise), asparagus, mussels and beer. Well, I am not a fan of beer actually, but that probably because the grain that it is made from is poison to my system. Everything else though, I love (including these mussels)!
- 2 pounds clean mussels
- Fat- a generous pat of butter
- Aromatic vegetables- 3 shallots (or one small onion), cut into chunks
- Aromatic vegetables- 1 leek sliced
- Aromatic vegetables-2 stocks celery cut in to chunks
- Liquid- one pint of dry white wine
- Herb- a sprig of fresh thyme
- Herb- freshly ground black pepper
- Herb- a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley
- Finishing flavour- a scant cup of cream (you could use less or skip it)
- salt to taste (You will only need salt if you are adding cream. Mussels are naturally salty!)
You can serve your Belgian mussels with bread (if you eat it). I ate mine with oven fries (Silvi’s recipe for yam fries made with russet potatoes). I sprinkled the fries with a bit of this crazy good spice mix (Persian lemon, garlic and cardamom) that my friend Makale gave me and served them with homemade mayonnaise. Roasted asparagus would be good too….but maybe wait until the spring when its back in season. I ended up with a lot of delicious creamy mussel broth left over which I made into an AMAZING smoked fish chowder. The recipe is farther down in this post.
Oven fries with home-made mayonnaise
This is a very popular way to make mussels but I must admit that it is not my favourite. Mussels prepared this way should really be eaten with really good bread, which I don’t eat. If you eat bread you will probably love these mussels!
- 2 pounds of mussels
- Fat- 2 tablespoons of good olive oil
- Aromatic vegetable- 3 shallots (or one small onion), minced
- Aromatic vegetable- at least 4 cloves of garlic (more is better), minced
- Aromatic vegetable- 1 and 1/2 pounds tomatoes diced (canned works fine in the winter)
- Liquid- 1 cup of white wine
- Herb- a handful of minced parsley, minced
- Herb- a few sprigs of fresh thyme
- Herb- a handful of fresh basil, minced (optional)
- Finishing flavour- salt and fresh black pepper to taste
AROMATIC THAI MUSSELS IN COCONUT MILK
The main challenge in making Thai style mussels is finding the ingredients. I have included some acceptable substitutions below if you can’t find everything. If you live in NYC, you can go to the place pictured below and find everything. It is on Mulberry Street just below Canal Street. If you do not see what you need, just ask! They keep some of the special stuff in the basement.
Usually, when you open a can of coconut milk the thickest fattest stuff has risen to the top. That thick stuff is the fat in this recipe and the rest of the milk is the liquid. If your coconut milk is not separated like this, don’t worry. Just use 2 tablespoons of the thinner milk to fry the aromatics and add the rest later.
PLEASE NOTE! For this recipe, you do not need to fry the aromatic vegetables until they are soft. Just fry them until they release a nice aroma (about 2 minutes).
- 2 pounds of mussels
- Fat- 2 tablespoons of thick coconut milk
- Aromatic vegetable- 10 lime leaves or the strips of peel from one lime
- Aromatic vegetable- 5 cloves af garlic, crushed
- Aromatic vegetable- 2 stalks of lemon grass, tough outer layers removed and cut into 4 inch long pieces or strips of peel from one small lemon
- Aromatic vegetable- 3 large slices of galanga root (also known as siamese ginger) or 3 pieces fresh common ginger plus 1/4 tsp yellow mustard seeds
- Liquid- The rest of the can of coconut milk (the brand I use comes in 13.5 ounce cans. A little more or less won’t hurt.)
- Herb- 4-6 small thai chilies crushed (dry or fresh)
- Herb- 1 cup fresh thai basil or fresh common basil plus 1 star anise (reserve half of the basil to add at the last minute).
- Herb- sambal olek or Louisiana style hot sauce to taste. I like a couple of teaspoons!
- Finishing flavour- The juice of 1 lime
- Finishing flavour- Fish sauce to taste. I like a few big splashes.
SMOKED FISH CHOWDER
- Some leftover broth and vegetables from Belgian style mussels
- 1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
- some smoked salmon or smoked trout
- Pull the thyme twigs out of the Belgian mussel broth and puree all of the other cooked aromatic vegetables, herbs and broth.
- Run the puree through a food mill or sieve to remove the strings from the celery and leeks.
- Put the strained puree into a saucepan along with the potato. Simmer it until the potato is tender.
- Garish with smoked salmon or smoked trout and eat it!
- Some leftover broth and vegetables from Mussels Provencal
- a tiny pour of heavy cream
- a generous pinch of cayenne pepper
- a slice pancetta or bacon
- A bit of grated cheese such as parmesan or aged gouda
- fresh chives minced
- Pull the thyme twigs out of the broth from the mussels provencal and puree all of the other cooked aromatic vegetables, herbs and broth.
- Run the puree through a food mill of sieve to remove tomato skins.
- Put the strained puree into a sauce pan and simmer to reduce it a bit and concentrate the tomato flavour.
- While the soup simmers, fry the pancetta or bacon until crispy.
- When the soup has reduced a bit add a tiny pour of heavy cream.
- Adjust the seasoning of the soup if necessary with salt and pepper and add a generous pinch of cayenne pepper.
- Serve the soup garnished with crumbled pancetta or bacon, grated cheese and minced chives.
- Some leftover broth from Aromatic Thai Mussels in Coconut Milk
- Some Baby Bok choy, napa cabbage or some other asian green, chopped
- Thin rice noodles
- Other vegetables such as red bell pepper, carrots or mushrooms if you wish, chopped
- minced cilantro for garnish
- Bring a kettle of water to boil.
- Strain the thai mussel broth and bring it to a gentle simmer in a heavy sauce pan.
- When the kettle boils pour the water over the rice noodles in a large boil and allow them to sit for 8 minutes.
- Drop your vegetable into the simmering soup and cook until they are barely tender.
- Strain the noodles and add them to the soup.
- garnish with cilantro and eat it!