Sunday, May 22, 2011

Steamed Mussels

Last weekend the crew made our first trip of the year down to Ye Olde Family Beach Haus. The spring weekend brought many of the usual things: fun times, relaxation, good drinks, weather that couldn't make up its mind, and of course, plenty of awesome food, some of it plucked from the beach or pulled from the water an hour before it was eaten. Such as these lovely invertebrates here:

Mytilus trossulus, the humble yet prolific Blue Mussel
Blue mussels (also called Foolish or Bay mussels) grow in abundance here in Puget Sound, their blue-black shells hanging in thick clusters from the bottoms of floating docks and buoy ropes. They're tastiest in late summer, but if there are no pollution or marine biotoxin warnings, they can be harvested all year.

Mussels are one of those foodstuffs which are a royal pain in the ass to prepare, but are well worth the effort. Cooking them is simple, it's the cleaning and prep that takes time: after pulling them off the dock in clumps, mussels must be separated, the beards pulled off (by yanking the fibrous byssus towards the pointy end of the closed shell), the shells scrubbed, and the whole lot cleaned several times in fresh water. Lexi and I generally accomplish much of this at the water's edge, easing the effort with a liberal application of sunshine and many refills of the Foofy Drink of the Day.

Once prepped, mussels can be used in a wide variety of seafood recipes. Sweeter and smaller than oysters with a texture similar to steamer clams, they easily find a home in paella, cioppino, or seafood chowder. They also stand well on their own, served cold with malt vinegar or a dipping sauce laced with dill. And, of course, they're divine when steamed, served in their own broth with plenty of melted butter and bread for dipping.

In the past we've steamed them in a mixture of coconut milk, broth, red Thai curry paste, lemongrass, and cilantro. This time I went for a more traditional recipe.


1 part dry white wine
1 part chicken broth or water
1 tomato, diced
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
1-5 lb. fresh Blue Mussels, cleaned & de-bearded

Add all ingredients but the parsley and mussels to a heavy stock pot and bring to a near-boil. Add mussels. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Steam covered for 5 minutes. Add parsley and steam uncovered for another 3 minutes. Drain and serve with crusty bread and melted butter. Optionally, ladle into individual serving bowls, broth and all, and let guests dip their bread into the shellfish broth as an added treat.

Steaming shellfishy goodness.