Mussels for An Easy Summertime Dinner

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There was a piece in yesterday’s New York Times Opinion section by Paul Greenberg who wrote American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood. In it, he suggests that eating eating farmed oysters and mussels is both good for us and the environment. According to Greenberg, mussels filter gallons of water which helps fish and because mussels are filled with Omega-3’s (like tuna and salmon), eating them helps us. 

But the main reasons to eat mussels are that they taste great, are relatively inexpensive as seafood goes, and couldn’t be easier to prepare. I had made some mussels the night before reading Greenberg’s piece just because the omnivorous portion of the family loves them and on a hot summer day, it’s a great meal that doesn’t heat up the kitchen and goes well with a summery glass of dry rose.  

This barely even a recipe. I bought three pounds of mussels which could serve 4 as an entree with some side dishes with a little heft, or six as an appetizer, but which Paul and I polished off alone with just a little broccoli steamed alongside and a piece of really good bread.

I washed the mussels in a couple of changes of cool water and checked to see if any had wiry “beards” which needed to be pulled off. With farmed mussels, few have beards and even if you do find some, they are little. Fresh, live mussels should all close up in the cool water. Discard the ones that don't. This batch did give off some dirt and sand, so I rinsed them well.After that, the absolutely easiest method, is to saute a half an onion, or a large shallot, or even a few sliced spring onions (which is what I used this time) in a couple of teaspoons of olive oil in a pan or pot large enough to also hold the muscles, over medium heat for a few minutes and then add a clove or two of garlic and about a pinch of salt and a quarter teaspoon hot pepper (I like Aleppo). After about another two minutes, raise the heat and add about 1 cup of white or rose wine and let it gently boil for a few minutes to burn off the alcohol. Add in the cleaned mussels, lower the heat back to medium, make sure the liquid is still bubbling a little, cover the pot and let the liquid steam the mussels for about 10 minutes. 

If you want to get fancier you could add some celery in with the onion, or some diced tomatoes with the garlic. Herbs are always a great addition, and a few tablespoons of cream could go in once the alcohol in the wine has burned off. But these are just flourishes that while lovely, are not necessary if you want to keep things simple. 

I steamed some broccoli alongside, but you could easily throw it in the same pot with the mussels during the last five minutes or so of the cooking. Just keep the pieces of broccoli on the large size so they're easy to fish out when serving. 

Check inside the pot after about 10 minutes and make sure the shells have opened and that the mussels have plumped and solidified. At this point, if they have opened, toss the ones that stayed sealed tight. 

To serve, use a slotted spoon to place some of the mussels (and broccoli if you’ve cooked it all together) in individual bowls, then, when you can get at the broth and vegetables at the bottom, ladle some over each bowl. I reserved a little of the thinly sliced tops of the spring onion to toss on top before serving. Parsley would also work well here. 

Serve with great bread for dipping in the sauce.