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Demystifying Mussels

Here's a mystery: Mussels are cheap, tasty, plentiful, fast-cooking, low in mercury, a lean source of protein and a good way to get your omega-3 fatty acids. Early humans were big on 'em.

With all that to their credit, you might think they'd go like gangbusters. You'd think those little black shellfish would be flying out of fishmongers' shops, so to speak. But no. You'd be wrong. Home cooks tend to shy away from cooking mussels.

And I should know... I'm one of those shy cooks. I know how fast and easy and good mussels are (especially with a solid Belgian beer), and yet I very rarely make them.

Mussels with White Wine and Tomatoes

Why not? Maybe it's something about dealing with the shells. Maybe it's the fact that they're living and need to be cooked right away — Mussels really aren't keen on hanging around the fridge.

Then again, maybe it's just habit. It's just so easy to whip up a salad or to sear a steak. It's a cinch to throw on a pot of soup and have something comforting to eat for several days.

But mussels have so much going for them, I really feel like efforts should be made to work them into the routine.

Here's a super-fast, super-easy mussel method. My best tip for success? Make sure they're all closed (or ready and willing to close) before you cook 'em. If their shells are a little open, give 'em a squeeze and see if they make an attempt to shut. Mussels that don't close should be tossed.

Mussels in White Wine & Tomatoes (Serves about 4 people)
1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, smashed or minced
2 shallots, sliced thin
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
2 lb fresh mussels
1 cup dry white wine
1 can (28oz) diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1. In cool running water, scrub the mussels clean and pull off the little bit of seaweed-like "beard" along the edges.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or heavy-bottomed pan. Add the garlic, shallots and red pepper flakes (if using). Sautée for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the mussels to the pan and stir them about, coating them in the oil. Add in the drained tomatoes and the white wine. Cover the pan and cook until the mussels begin to open, about 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat. Spoon out the cooked mussels and sauce into serving dishes and sprinkle with the parsley. Be sure to offer separate bowls to collect the shells.

Serve with a sliced baguette — you and your fellow diners can soak up some of the savory sauce.

Obviously, this dish is going to go well with the rest of the bottle of wine you used for cooking, so be sure you're cooking with a wine you enjoy (and that's just good advice for just about any dish).

Bon Appetit!
Miss Ginsu

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Blogger Kim said...

Miss Ginsu,

I like most seafood but have never been able to eat mussels because they have a chunk of grit in them. Is this the fault of the mussels (maybe I'm supersensitive to grit?), the chef (not removing something), or what?

Help, I'd love to love mussels.


Blogger MissGinsu said...

Oh yes... the sand/mud part can be tricky. A lot depends on the batch you get.

You must scrub them off, of course, but they often have grit inside the shell, so soaking in some cold, salted water before cooking is a good idea. (Don't forget the salt. They're not big fans of fresh water.) The mussels will filter through the water and push out some of their sand. Some people say you should soak for 20 minutes, others will tell you to soak for an hour. It's not an exact science, but any time you allow them to soak should help.

Also... after you've cooked the mussels, rather than pouring them out, it's a good idea to spoon them (and their sauce) out of the pan, abandoning what remains at the bottom.

Hope that helps!

Happy Eating,
Miss G.


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