Mussels are one of my favorite mollusks. They're delicious, nutritious, and inexpensive as well as readily available fresh or frozen in most seafood markets.
These tender and versatile mollusks were long considered the poor relative to better known and pricier shellfish – scallops, clams and oysters. But anyone who’s ever eaten Moule Frites (the hearty French bistro fare Mussels and Fries) knows there is, thankfully, more than one shellfish in the sea.
Since mussels, like their more celebrated cousins, oysters, feed indiscriminately, most mussels found in markets are farm raised. Selecting fresh mussels is not difficult if you follow two simple rules – look for tightly closed shellfish and avoid broken or damaged shells. While you might keep your mussels on ice overnight in the refrigerator, they are highly perishable and should be used promptly after purchase.
Most live mussels bought in the seafood markets are pretty thoroughly cleaned. However, should they be “bearded,” you simply will need to remove that unsightly stubble of hairs with a sharp tug toward the hinge of the mussel. To ensure they are thoroughly clean, it’s recommended to place the mussels in cold water with a tablespoon or two of corn meal. The mollusks eat the corn meal, then expel any grit or sand, making your mussels much tastier. They should be well-rinsed before preparation.
Despite what may seem like a high maintenance ritual, I prefer fresh mussels - alive, alive oh - for obvious reasons.
However, I recently tried green mussels frozen (and already cooked). I was a little leery of frozen mussels, thinking they'd be rubbery perhaps. I bought a New Zealand brand, Talley's, found at Whole Foods, which were on the half shell, and retail for about $7.99.
The results were pleasantly surprising, tender meat and good flavor. I made a quick broth with dried Italian herbs, sherry, garlic, sweet onion and diced tomatoes, added the mussels, and then put on a pot of water to boil the linguine. Don’t forget to reserve pasta water to add to the sauce as it helps the sauce adhere to the pasta.
Dinner was ready in less than half an hour. This quick and easy recipe for mussels is great for last minute meals.
Mussels with Linguine
8 ounces linguine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, salted
1/4 cup Vidalia onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tomatoes, diced
1/2 tablespoon Italian herbs, dry
1/4 cup sherry
1 cup chicken stock (or clam juice)
1. Add butter and olive oil to a small stock pot. Stir in onion, garlic, tomatoes, and Italian herbs. Saute for about five minutes or until onions are soft.
2. Add sherry to the stockpot and reduce by half before adding the chicken stock or clam juice and the mussels.
3. Simmer for about 5-10 minutes, allowing the flavors to marry.
4. Put pot of water on to boil for linguine. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water to add to your sauce.
5. Add pasta water to your stockpot, then add linguine to mussel and broth mixture. Gently mix, then serve in pasta bowls. Sprinkle with grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano as desired. Garnish with chopped flatleaf parsley.
Serve with fresh Italian bread.