Mussels are part of the ‘molluscs‘ family of shellfish and have an external hinged double shell. They can form part of many other dishes, specifically fish and shellfish stews and Paella. But they are more than worthy on their own as a great source for some wonderful dishes. They can be found across the coastlines of Europe clinging to the cliffs, facing the Atlantic storms. But all across Europe they are now extensively farmed to increase their availability. When purchasing you should make certain that they are fresh. Ask the supplier where they are from, if they do not know go on to the next supplier.
As with most shellfish, they should also be alive. Their double shells tightly closed, if some are open give them a sharp tap on the hinge and make certain that they close immediately. Some will be open to have a peek at the outside world for the last time. A word of caution when cooked, make certain that the Mussel does the reverse than when alive. The shells should be wide open. Pick out the ones that are not open. But be careful since some of the closed ones might be full of mud.
Tip 1. The plain and simple way
Plain and simple and virtual national dish of Belgium with Fries and Mayonnaise.
For a moderate portion select 500 g of Mussels, make certain that they are alive, scrape the shells to remove barnacles and remove the ‘beard’ sticking out of the opening. In a heavy bottomed pan warm 5 ml of olive oil, and soften a rounded tablespoon of chopped onion and a clove of chopped garlic. On high heat add 25 ml of dry white wine and the Mussels. Cover the pan and steam until opened. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley and serve, with the home-made chips and mayonnaise of course.
Tip 2. Something special for your Mussels
Try one of many variations of steaming Mussels with ingredients from around the world. I believe fusion cooking is the term used.
Try European with onion, garlic, tomato, spiced pork sausage and red wine. Or try Oriental with ginger, lemon grass, rice wine, chilli and Thai fish sauce. The range of choices for cooking Mussels is enormous.
Tip 3. Perhaps a little nibble of Mussels
As a seafood lover I am keen on trying it at all opportunities. I enjoy Mackerel pates and pots of Morecambe Bay Shrimps, jellied Eels and the great Portuguese Sardine paste. So why not make your own little paste. De-shell some mussels and squeeze them dry, around 75 g should suffice. In a blender mix until smooth with a small tin of anchovies, a teaspoon of smoked paprika and 40 g of melted butter.
Place into small containers, making certain that there is a covering of butter, and chill. Serve as a little nibble with some dry toast.