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.

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. And since they’re said to be best in months that contain an “R,” you can be fairly confident about your mussels from September through April. (Thus avoiding those questionable hot-weather months.)

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 crisp salad and maybe 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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