Mussels tend to be the forgotten shellfish. This is largely because they aren’t colorful, they grow on sea rocks and don’t really appear all that appetizing. Yet properly cooked and served, mussels are delectable and succulent, especially when they are as fresh as possible.
The first step, whether the mussels come from a store or right off the ocean rocks, is to clean them. They should be brushed under running water with either a stiff brush or a wire brush. The latter is preferable. This removes debris, sand and the thin material these animals use to adhere to rocks. None of this stuff adds to a great feast.
The first cooking of mussels locks the flavor in. They can then be batter-fried, rolled in crumbs and fried, used in soups or stews, or cooked in a wide variety of ways. The first cooking also usually causes the shell to open, easing further preparation. When alive, mussels can close their shells incredibly tightly.
Prying them open can be quite a trick that is also likely to result in flesh wounds for the person trying it, from the tools that are being used.
Thankfully, preliminary cooking is easy to accomplish. In a pot, bring a gallon of water, to which a cup of salt has been added, to a full rolling boil. Put the mussels into the boiling salt water and allow them to stay there, covered by the water, for ten minutes. Using a ladle or slotted spoon, remove the shellfish from the pot and allow them to cool.
At this point, the shells should be popped open enough to grasp both shells with the hands and to open them completely. Pull the meat from the shells and prepare for the cooking. This is the really fun part because of all the possibilities.
The mussel meat can be cooked in so many ways, it’s staggering. They can be made in almost every way that clams can be, and the results are often fabulous.
Here are only a few examples:
Coat the meat in scrambled eggs, then roll it in cracker crumbs. Fry these in hot bacon grease or olive oil, turning them periodically, until they are golden brown. This is great served hot as a main dish, with a wedge of lemon and homemade cocktail sauce, made from one cup of ketchup, 1 tablespoon grated horseradish, and 1/2 teaspoon dill weed. Sliced tomatoes are an exquisite side dish for this seafood, with or without green salad.
The meat can also be dipped in a thick beer batter and be deep fried. This method, as well as the last, can be served on a bed of hot cooked rice. The side dishes and sauce applies to mussels cooked this way as well.
A quite wonderful chowder can also be created. Finely slice or dice a few carrots, onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, celery, and garlic. Boil these until they are tender, usually about a half hour to 45 minutes. The water should be just deep enough to cover the vegetables.
Next, add the mussel meat, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1/2 teaspoon basil, and 1/2 teaspoon of thyme. Also add salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind the likes and dislikes of those who will be eating the chowder.
Bring the water back to a boil, and then reduce the heat. Allow it to simmer for another five minutes. For a super effect, this chowder can be served in cleaned oyster shell bowls. It tastes the same if none are available. A finishing touch is a sprig of parsley to make the dish as colorful as it is flavorful.
These are only a few cooking and meal ideas, but clearly, mussels are a great and often overlooked seafood. It is great that they are also far cheaper than clams and oysters, because of the lack of demand. They cost even less if a person can get them on their own. Yet, the flavor can wow people and make a belly full of rich and great tasting food.
It is worthwhile to properly cook and serve mussels. They are even healthy, but don’t tell anyone that part. Don’t spoil a fantastically flavorful meal by letting people know it is also good for them.