Monday, April 16, 2012


PEI Mussels
Whenever I think about mussels (not the gym-type), I always love to recollect several memories.  The first is from double digit years ago when I visited my number-one friend and her family for Christmas.  She requested that I bring a marinara sauce recipe for mussels that they planned to serve as one of the main dishes for Christmas Eve.  Of course, I was elected to cook the sauce. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, as I started to prepare the sauce, my friend's husband, who is an avid cook, entered the kitchen and asked me if I needed any help with the preparation. I told him to open the cans of tomatoes and tomato puree. Later that evening at dinner, as everyone was enjoying the mussels and commented how good they were, my friend's husband proudly stated, "And I helped." My friend laughed and said that he reminded her of the little girl in the Shake n' Bake commercial (back in the day--is that still around?) who said, "And I helped."  Great memory.

Last fall, I provided several mussels recipes to a restaurant in the Caribbean who never served mussels at their venue.  Then the other day, as I was perusing one of the websites where patrons comment about restaurants, I came across one from a New England customer who had recently dined at that restaurant, "and the food is consistently excellent, best mussels I've had outside of New England."  Need I say more?

And, more recently, I was asked to provide a local restaurant with some ideas and recipes to expand their current menu.   Since mussels are not included, I came up with several seasonal mussels recipes. And how did I come up with seasonal mussels?  It just happened.

Mussels are an excellent choice for a restaurant and, of course, for the home cook.  They are available year round, do not incur the seasonal price fluctuations like other proteins, and are actually very healthy and nutritious.  From a restaurant standpoint, their profit margins are very high.   And for the home cook, their profit margins are very high, too.

After visiting the local Restaurant Depot and purchasing a 10-pound bag of PEI mussels for $15.00 (yes $1.50 per pound), I needed to come up with several recipes and cook them within a week.  I used the standard two pounds of mussels for two (or one pound per person).   

In addition to my traditional mussels recipes that week, I also tried steaming them in sake, tequila, St. Germain (yes, St. Germain--not such a good choice), and bourbon. Not all at the same time, mind you.  Finally, I realized that the recipes could be adapted seasonally, and thought about the "four seasons of mussels" concept.

First, a brief lesson about PEI mussels, which are, by far, the only ones to use.  Again, I'm sounding like Alton Brown here.

Prince Edward Island (PEI) rope grown mussels (Mytilus edulis) are some of the cleanest, most consistently sized mussels available anywhere. Like other bivalves, farming methods for mussels are environmentally sound. Mussels do not rely on fishmeal or fish oil as part of their diet, rarely have diseases making chemicals or antibiotics unnecessary, and help to improve the surrounding water quality by cleaning tiny particles and debris. Best of all, most farmed mussels, including PEI mussels, are grown on ropes suspended in mid water, making seafloor dredging unnecessary. Great taste and sustainable? That’s a win-win situation.  Quality PEI mussels are available year-round, so, again, this makes them a win-win situation. 

After purchasing mussels, put them in a bowl and store them in the top portion of the fridge, covered with a damp cloth. Never keep the mussels submerged in water. Before preparing the mussels, rinse them in cold water.  Then cook them to whatever recipe you're following that day.   After mussels are cooked, you could remove the "meat" and place it in the cooking liquid and freeze.  I've never done this and probably never will.

So, after many years of preparing various mussels dishes, experimenting with liquors from the bar--in the mussels, that is--and just having a blast with my 10 pounds of mussels, I put together some of my favorite recipes.  Of course, the most basic one is the Moules Meuniere, which is an old standby that could be made any time of the year.  The others I consider to be seasonal, or not.  And, finally, I had to include the marinara sauce recipe at the end of the four seasons.

For every mussels dish, always ensure to have a warm crusty baguette on hand to soak up those savory broths, no matter what time of year it is.
Mussels cooked in white wine, garlic and herbs
The basic Moules Meuniere is the traditional mussels dish that is steamed in garlic, herbs and wine. The same method of steaming/cooking is used for the "seasonal" mussels dishes that follow.  Of course, the best wine to serve with this one is a crisp, white Burgundy from France.

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup shallots, finely chopped
1/4 cup garlic, finely chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
2 lbs live PEI mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" pieces
1/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Kosher salt and white pepper,

In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the shallots and garlic and stir until soft and translucent.  Add the bay leaves, thyme and white wine.  Bring mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the mussels and place a lid on top of pan. After about two minutes, start shaking pan and continue to do so every about every 30 seconds. Since all mussels do not open at the same time, I like to remove the mussels as they open. After about three minutes, lift lid and remove any mussels that have opened.  Place the opened mussels into a separate stainless steel bowl (or another pot) on the stove and keep warm. Cover with aluminum foil.  Continue to shake pan and remove mussels as they open.  After all mussels are open (discard any that remain closed), add the butter to the pan and stir it in to melt. Add the parsley and season the broth with salt and white pepper.  Return the opened mussels to the original pan and gently stir the mussels into the warm broth (alternatively, transfer mussels to a large serving bowl and pour broth over mussels).  I like to serve mussels in the pan that they were cooked in. 

This dish is made with roasted red peppers, which I like to consider the mussels for spring dish.  I've adapted this recipe from the Les Halles cookbook.  Roasting your own red peppers is always the way to go for this one, but if that can't be done (I don't know why), then jarred peppers are (sort of) acceptable.  This goes well with a sauvignon blanc.

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup thinly sliced onion
1 cup of roasted red peppers* cut into strips
1/4 cup garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
dash of salt and pepper (about 0.125 grams total)
2 pounds live PEI mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" pieces
1/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the onion. Cook until soft and just beginning to soften.  Add the peppers and garlic and cook for 1 minute, then stir in the white wine and the salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil.  Add mussels and cover. Cook over medium-high heat, and follow the same cooking procedure as above.  When done, add the butter, and shake again.  Add parsley and serve.

*preferably homemade.  If homemade peppers are unavailable, then substitute jarred peppers

Mussels simmering in Jose Cuervo Black Oak Barrel...tough life
What screams summer more than tequila and lime?  Well, how about mussels cooked in tequila and lime as an accompaniment to the drink.  During my 10 pounds of mussels week, I discovered that we had a bottle of Jose Cuervo Black Oak Barrel Single Blend tequila on the bar.  This was probably one of the best discoveries that I made that week.  So, I made steamed mussels in tequila and lime.  Add a shot of tequila as a side drink and it's a perfect summer dish.

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup shallots, finely chopped
1/4 cup garlic, finely chopped
1 cup tequila
2 oz. fresh lime juice
2 pounds live PEI mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
1/4 cup lime zest, cut into strips
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt, to taste--about 1/12th of a teaspoon (yes, one-twelfth)
1 lime, cut into 1/8 wedges

In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the shallots and garlic.  Cook until soft and just beginning to soften.  Stir in the tequila and lime juice. Bring the mixture to a light boil.  Add mussels and cover. Cook over medium-high heat and follow the same procedure for cooking the mussels.  I know-- it's getting boring.   When mussels are done, combine them in the pot. Add lime zest, chopped cilantro, and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Garnish with fresh lime wedges.

After all of that tequila in the summer, it's time to return to the bulky sweaters and put away the flip-flops.  Actually, we don't wear flip flops and probably never will.  Our fall mussels dish contains fresh fennel, which offers a liquorish taste and is perfect this time of year.  Of course, the wine to drink with this is a full-bodied oaked chardonnay.  

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup fresh fennel, thinly sliced
1/2 cup shallots, thinly sliced
1/3 cup garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp anise seeds
2 pounds live PEI mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" pieces
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fennel fronds
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade

In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the fresh fennel, shallots and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent.  Stir in the white wine, lemon juice, coriander and anise seeds.  Bring to a boil.  Add mussels and cover.  Using the same procedure as above, cook, shake, remove and return mussels to pot when done. Add the butter, fresh parsley, fennel fronds and fresh basil.  Serve.

Mussels Manhattan with freshly grated cheese..just a garnish
MUSSELS MANHATTAN A classic Manhattan is a fine drink, and our home bar is always well-stocked with bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters during the winter months (all other months, too). So, as the snowfall covers the city, a Mussels Manhattan is another great dish, which, of course is my take on winter mussels.  I adapted this recipe from executive chef Larry Tressler of Holland House Bar and Refuge in Nashville.  The mussels are simmered in bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters.  As with other dishes containing alcohol, most of it is evaporated during cooking, but the taste is still there.   And, typically, I'm always against putting any cheese on fish, but we did it for this one.  The mussels are great by themselves, but better still served alongside their namesake cocktail.
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup garlic, finely chopped
3/4 cup bourbon (or whiskey)
2 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
½ cup vegetable stock
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped

In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add
garlic. Remove pan from the heat and add the bourbon, vermouth and bitters.  Return pan to heat and let mixture cook for about 2 minutes.  Stir in the vegetable stock and then add mussels.  Cover, cook, shake remove mussels as they open, then return mussels to pan.  Add the butter, then top with the cheese and basil and serve immediately with the toasted baguette.

Alfalfa sprouts as a garnish on top of one season of mussels

This is the "classic" recipe that I started making way back in--never-mind.  It was a while ago.  I still make the marinara sauce as a typical standby to go with shrimps or lobster tails or crab legs. Since the mussels discussion piqued my memory of yesteryear, I had to include this one, too.  And, the perfect wine with this is Chianti.

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup fresh garlic, chopped
3 flat anchovy fillets, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 30-oz can Italian tomatoes, whole
1 30-oz can tomato puree
1 cup water
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried)
1/8 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Melt butter with olive oil over medium heat.  Stir in garlic and cook for about 1 minute.  Stir in anchovy until dissolved, about 1-2 minutes more.

Add tomato paste and stir to heat.  Squeeze whole tomatoes or put through food mill.  Add to pan with the puree, water, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for about an hour.

1 comment:

quiltlover said...

Loved your renditions on Mussels.
The trip down memory lane made us both laugh and bring up other cooking stories from that trip as well.