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Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Wine Steamed Mussels
I find it amazing how sometimes the dishes with the most flavor are the quickest to prepare. Take this dish, for instance. In less than ten minutes, you end up with a super flavorful broth and perfectly tender mussels. I had never prepared mussels before last night. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and delicious they were to prepare.
They're especially easy if you purchase fresh cultured blue mussels. These mussels are "farmed" up in Canada off Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, but really they're not so much farmed as managed. The mussels grow in waters in which they are native, they are simply "encouraged" to grow in specific places. They eat their natural food (i.e. the "farmer" does not feed them in any way). They are then allowed to grow naturally. Lastly, they are harvested year round to end up perfectly fresh at your supermarket's fish counter. Why are these cultured mussels easier to cook with? Because they've already cleaned them for you! No need to soak or remove those pesky beards. I can appreciate that!
Being a mussel buying newbie yesterday was, I'll admit, a bit embarrassing. I asked for three pounds of mussels; it is recommended that you plan for a pound per person. Since we're big eaters, I figured I'd get an extra pound. They were surprisingly cheap, even at Whole Foods. I got them on sale for $1.99 a pound here in the D.C. area, but even their regular price is less than $4.00 per pound. So the fish monger weighed them out for me into a plastic bag, placed the price tag on it, and proceeded to attempt to hand me the bag... with it hanging open. I looked at him like he was crazy and asked, "Are you really trying to hand me this bag of messy shellfish without any further packaging?" He rolled his eyes (very politely, I might add) and told me that they needed to breathe and that if I closed the packaging up, I'd kill them. Oh. Duh. Okay.
I did manage to get the little buggers home without killing or spilling them everywhere. When it came time to prepare dinner, I simply rinsed them off and picked through them to be sure there weren't any damaged or dead ones. If you come across a mussel with a broken shell or one who is open and won't close with a little tap, discard it. Let the mussels hang out while you prepare the broth: garlic, onion, tomato, white wine, and water is all that's in there, but once the mussels add their juices and it all cooks together a bit? Divine!!
Steam the mussels over medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes, until the vast majority of them open. The amount of time it will take to cook them depends on the heat, obviously, but also how many mussels you've got in the pot. Although I've read conflicting reports, the prevailing wisdom states that you should also discard any mussels that don't open during the cooking process. It seemed best to me to be safe rather than sorry, so I followed that suggestion. Be careful not to overcook the mussels or they can become rubbery and unappealing. They're ready when they've opened so keep and eye on them. Once the mussels are done steaming, stir the pot and ladle them up. Be sure to serve them with some rustic bread to sop up those perfect juices!
Wine Steamed Mussels
Yield: 3 servings
2 TBS butter
1 TBS minced garlic
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced tomato
1/2 cup white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
1/2 cup water
3 pounds of mussels, cleaned and debearded
salt and pepper to taste
In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute until they are slightly softened. Add the tomato, wine, and water and bring to a boil. Add the mussels and cover the pot. Let steam for 5-10 minutes, until most of the mussels have opened. It is recommended that you discard the mussels that do not open during the cooking process. Remove from the heat and give the pot a stir. Taste the broth and add salt and pepper to taste. Be cautious about salting the broth before cooking and tasting as the mussels give off a salty brine when cooking. Serve immediately with crust bread for dipping.