The Musette: Mussels many ways

I often cook mussels for lunch after a long ride as they’re the original fast food – cooked alive and eaten fresh. These shellfish are truly delicious and adaptable as the following recipes and suggestions show. Like many things though, you will need to have done some planning and preparation beforehand.

Acquiring and cleaning mussels

If you have collected the mussels yourself, put them in a bucket of sea water as soon as possible and add a handful of flour to the water. Live mussels feed on this and it cleanses their stomachs of sand and grit before cooking. Your fishmonger will already have done this prior to selling them. Mussels should smell fresh like the sea. Ask your fishmonger how long the mussels have been out of the water. Fresh mussels will keep for a minimum of three days in the fridge and should still have the byssus or ‘beard’ attached. If it’s already been removed, the mussels won’t keep as long. Store the mussels in the fridge in a bowl to catch any leaking seawater and cover them with a damp cloth to keep them from drying out. Leave the cleaning until just before cooking.

Do NOT soak them in water – fresh or salt. Fresh water will kill them, and if left for too long in static salt water the mussels will use up the oxygen and suffocate.

Preparing and cooking mussels

Place the mussels in a large dry bowl. Discard any that have broken shells. Likewise, if a mussel has an open shell and it fails to shut as soon as you tap it, discard it. Scrub the shells with a stiff brush to get rid of any grit. Use a small sharp knife to scrape away barnacles and pull off any straggly ‘beards’ protruding from the shell. Use a colander to rinse the mussels under fresh running water. They’re now ready for cooking. It is best to use them immediately.

Boil 3 cm (about an inch) of water in a large wide pan with a lid. Pour in the mussels, place the lid on and steam for 3-4 minutes or until all the mussels have opened. Do NOT overcook, as rubbery mussels are an abomination. Discard any mussels that have not opened.

Black beauties cleaned and ready to cook (image: Sheree)Black beauties cleaned and ready to cook (Image: Sheree)

The Classic Moules Mariniere

Ingredients (serves four as a main course, or eight as a starter)

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium-sized shallot, finely chopped
  • 500ml (2 cups) dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 kg (4 lbs) mussels, cleaned and debearded
  • Handful of freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley

Method

1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a wide-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. As soon as the butter melts, add the shallots and cook for five minutes.

2. Add the wine, bay leaves, thyme, and pepper. Bring to a boil, and cook for three minutes to evaporate the alcohol.

3. Add the mussels and cover the pan. After three minutes take off the lid. If no mussels have opened yet, put the top back on, and continue checking at one-minute intervals until they open.

4. Divide the cooked mussels among four bowls. Discard the bay leaves and any unopened mussels, and ladle the hot sauce over the mussels. Sprinkle over the parsley.

5. Serve immediately with crusty bread to mop up the sauce, and a green salad. Don’t forget to provide a large bowl where everyone can put their empty shells!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Once you’ve mastered the basic art of steaming mussels, the possibilities are endless.

2. For a version with a more Spanish feel, add sautéed chunks of spicy chorizo to the pan along with a finely diced (skinned and deseeded) red pepper while you’re cooking the shallots.

3. Give them a West Country feel with leeks, bacon and cider.

4. If you want a richer sauce, stir some crème fraiche into it once the mussels are cooked..

5. For Moules Mouclade, just add curry powder and saffron to the shallots while they’re cooking and stir some double cream through the sauce afterwards.

6. Or, you can give the mussels a more Italian vibe with the addition of finely chopped garlic and a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes (to taste) – add just before the shallots are cooked – along with a handful of freshly skinned, deseeded, chopped tomatoes which you should add with the wine. Top with chopped parsley or rocket (arugula) and serve with a chunk of focaccia.

Mussels: Italian style

Mussels: Italian style (Image: Sheree)

7. I find mussels work really well with both Far Eastern and Indian spicing. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try these two recipes.

Ingredients for sweet, sour, salty and spicy mussels (image: Sheree)

Ingredients for sweet, sour, salty and spicy mussels (Image: Sheree)

Thai Style Mussels

Ingredients (serves four as a main course, or eight as a starter)

  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • ½ tsp red chilli paste
  • 4 fat garlic gloves, peeled and finely grated
  • Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 200ml (¾ cup) coconut milk
  • Juice and zest from two fresh limes
  • Bunch of freshly chopped coriander, including stems
  • 2kg (4lb) mussels, cleaned and debearded

Method

1. Heat the coconut oil in a frying pan (skillet) and fry the spices for 30 seconds, then add the chilli paste, coconut milk and lime zest. Heat the sauce on a low heat for 15 minutes.

2. Cook the 2kg (4 lb) of mussels in a large saucepan with lid in about 3 cm (an inch) of boiling water for three minutes or until they have opened. Remove mussels from the pan with a slotted spoon, discard any that have not opened, and reserve the fragrant cooking liquid.

3. Add about 200ml (¾ cup) of the mussel cooking liquid and all the cooked mussels to the pan, the freshly squeezed lime juice and the chopped coriander. There’s no need to add that all-essential Thai ingredient, fish sauce, because there’s plenty of salt in the cooking liquid once the mussels have given up their taste of the sea.

4. Divide equally between the dishes and serve with a bowl of jasmine rice.

Thai-style mussels (image: Sheree)

Fragrant Thai-style mussels (Image: Sheree)

A few adjustments to the ingredients and Thai become Indian style mussels!

Indian Style Mussels

Ingredients (serves four as a main course, or eight as a starter)

  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 small finely chopped red onion
  • ½ tsp red chilli paste
  • 4 large garlic gloves, peeled and finely grated
  • Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 3 medium-sized tomatoes chopped
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 60g (1 cup) unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • Bunch of freshly chopped coriander, including stems
  • 2kg (4lb) mussels, cleaned and debearded

Method

1. Heat the coconut oil in a frying pan (skillet) and fry the onions for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Add the chilli, garlic and ginger pastes and stir well for 30 seconds. Now add the tomatoes and cook until they soften and break down, about 8-10 minutes.

2. Cook the 2kg (4 lb) of mussels in a large saucepan with lid in about 3cm (an inch) of boiling water for three minutes or until they have opened. Remove mussels from the pan with a slotted spoon, discarding any that have not opened, and reserve the cooking liquid.

Curry paste for mussels (image: Sheree)

Curry paste for mussels (Image: Sheree)

3. Add the garam masala, turmeric and coconut to the onion mixture and mix well. Add about 250ml (1 cup) of the mussel cooking liquid and all the cooked mussels to the pan, along with the chopped coriander.

4. Divide equally between the dishes and serve with an Indian flat bread. I find naan works best.

Mop up that sauce with an Indian flat bread (image: Sheree)

Mop up that sauce with an Indian flat bread (Image: Sheree)

 

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