Saturday afternoon. My honey gets a hankering for some mussels. Well, we could go to a restaurant and pay anywhere from $15 to $20 per person, and then of course we would have to get a bottle of wine to go with, so I say, I’ll just make them here at home. They really are easy. Once we decide on the preparation (Wok Smoked from a recipe I got from our friend Chef Arnold Wong of Baccars in San Francisco) we are ready to go get our ingredients. Which are pretty darn simple; mussels, a Serrano pepper, some garlic and some white wine (or you could use sake if you wanted to). Get a wok, or wide pan, and you are almost ready to go.
First we went to Whole Foods to get the mussels. I got what sounded like plenty, 2 dozen, but once we got home I thought that didn’t look like enough to make a meal. So I sent hubby to get some more; he went to another market. Now the ones we got from Whole Foods were wild, the ones we got from the other market were farm raised. Each one has to be treated just a bit different.
Farm raised mussels are raised on netting, they attach themselves to the nets to grow and are pretty much clean inside since they don’t really get down into the sandy floor bed. But the wild ones, they do get sand and grit in them. And nobody really wants to eat sand and grit. So you need to soak them for about a half an hour to allow them to expel their sand. You will find sites that tell you to soak them in cold water with cornmeal mixed in…haven’t found that to be too convenient or effective. Then there are those that tell you to soak them in fresh cold water to allow them to breath; and as they breath they release the sand and grit. Well, this sounds good in principal, but mussels live in the sea, and fresh water would kill them. And you don’t want to cook dead mussels. So do soak them, but soak them in very salty (like the sea) water, for no more than 1/2 hour. And keep the water cold, in the refrigerator works. As far as those farmed mussels, take them out of whatever plastic wrapper the idiot behind the fish counter put them in and place them in a large bowl covered with a damp (not wet, just damp) cloth. You can keep them in the refrigerator for up to a day, but it’s best if you cook them sooner, like within a few hours.
Whether you are cooking with wild, or farmed, when you are ready to cook, you need to give them a good washing. You don’t really have to “scrub” them, unless you plan on eating the shells, and the shells really aren’t very good to eat. Wash them and look for the “beard”, a fuzzy stringy thing that sticks out of the opening of the shell. This is what they attach themselves with. You could eat it if you wanted to, but they are better without it. Not all, but most will have one. To remove this, take your fingers or a pair of needle nose pliers and pull that off, toward the small hinge end of the mussel. Once again, this is to keep the mussel alive by not yanking that across the inside; which can tear the mussel and kill it. You don’t want to cook already dead mussels.
OK…the mussels are soaked, cleaned and ready to cook. Wait a second. One more small step. You want to make sure the mussel is alive before you cook it. If they are tightly closed, that’s good. Sometimes they are slightly open, breathing. Give the shell a tap, if it closes up, good to go. If if doesn’t, it’s dead, throw it away.
NOW, you are ready to cook them.
Did I get the flame? No, I did not. And with wine, you have to really really get it the first time as the alcohol burns off quickly. I really should have used better matches; but this was kind of an impromptu production. I started getting ready to cook and told my husband “We should really film this” so we did.
We served this with a Pinot Gris and some crusty bread that we toasted and then rubbed with cloves of garlic. It was a perfect Saturday afternoon lunch.
Mussels are high in protein and low in fat. They are also very cost effective because unlike clams, their shells are very light so there is a good “shell to meat” ratio.