It wasn't until I lived in Seattle, with easy access to Taylor Shellfish Farms, that I truly began to love mussels. How many meals afford you the opportunity to gobble and scoop with the food's own shell? Such satisfaction is gained from a big bowl of steamed mussels, a good glass of white white and a crusty bread for dipping into the juices. I adore clams and love oysters, but to me, mussels are so much sweeter. The briny liquor that they release when cooked adds such rich flavor and versatility. While there are many species of mussels, we generally only find two in American markets. The most common is the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis). Why they are called blue, I don't know, because they are actually black. The other type are the beautiful blue-green mussels (Perna canaliculus). These hail from New Zealand and are a bit more expensive than their blue brother, and are also larger, making them good for stuffing. My favorite way to prepare mussels (either species) is with white wine, parsley and garlic, also known as moules á la marinière.
Moules á la Marinière
For 4 main-course servings:
6 lbs mussels
2 C dry white wine
3 shallots, finely chopped or sliced
1 bay leaf
2 fresh thyme sprigs
3 T finely chopped parsley
1-2 cloves thinly sliced garlic
1 stick (or 1/4 lb) of butter
Fresh ground pepper
Wash the mussels and pull away the beards.
Combine the wine, shallots, bay leaf, and thyme in a stockpot and simmer over medium heat.
After about 5 minutes add the mussels, cover the pot, and turn heat up to high. When at a full steam, lower to medium and cook for about 5 minutes more. Hold the lid down and shake the pot to redistribute the mussels. Return to heat for about 2-3 more minutes.
Remove from heat and remove any mussels that have not opened. (Really, don't mess with the unopened ones).
Carefully pour remaining liquid into a clean saucepan. Sand may remain on the bottom of the pot so be careful to not dump all at once, pour gently and slowly.
Add the chopped parsley and garlic to the hot broth and whisk in butter and pepper. Heat for a couple of minutes then ladle over mussels.
Serve with a crusty French bread and you're in business.
Note: the photo above shows the addition of cockles, which are lovely to add to this dish! As are clams.