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Seafood Secrets – Mussels

Posted on: May 17th, 2013

Thanks to their amazing flavor and chewy texture these tasty bivalves are a special treat for seafood lovers, and since they are beneficial to the ocean, farming them (and choosing them for your supper) is a wonderful thing!

Farm raised mussels are my first choice, firstly because of sustainability, and secondly because they are easier to clean.  Wild mussels usually need to be purged of sand and are dominated by a heavy ‘beard’ which can be very hard to remove, while farm-raised mussels have little to no beard and generally don’t need purging.  Wild mussels have a little more flavor, but is it worth all the extra trouble and price? I don’t think so.
Italian Mussel Trio Platter, surprisingly easy, all three can be cooked in the same pan.  Get the recipe.
Mussel Varieties
There are two varieties common in the U.S., the Blue Mussel and the Green Mussel.  The Blue mussel thrives in cooler waters on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, but the finest are said to come from Canada’s Prince Edward Island.  Commonly called black mussels (since they are more black than blue), these are the type we usually stock at Tony’s.

Green Mussels, commonly called Green Lipped Mussels, from the Pacific Rim are almost twice the size of black mussels.  They’re readily available frozen on the half shell, but can also be found live now and again.  Meaty and delicious, Green Mussels are easy to fall in love with!
Choosing, Storage and Cleaning
Ideally, mussels should be closed, but with the stress of travel they often arrive partially open and are just fine.  If you have any doubts, give them a sniff – they should boast the briny scent of the sea.
Clean mussels or meat only at Tony’s.
Live mussels need to breathe, place them in a bowl, cover with a damp cloth and store in the refrigerator.  When it’s time to cook, give them a quick scrub and remove the beard from inside the shell with a pair of needle nose pliers and a firm tug and they’re ready to cook.  Generally farm raised mussels are free of sand inside, but if cooking wild mussels, I do series of soaks in salt water as I suggest with clams to help them purge themselves of sand.
Mussels are delicious steamed or simmered in soups or sauces, when they open wide, they’re ready to eat.  The classic method is to sauté aromatics (like garlic and onion) in butter, add mussels, wine and cover to steam, cooking the mussels and creating an amazing sauce at the same time. This technique can be varied in so many ways and with so many ingredients from Thai to Italian; the only limitation is your imagination.
We also stock fully cleaned, cooked and frozen mussels from PanaPesca, which are infinitely easy to cook – basically just warm them through. I strongly recommend these to folks new to eating mussels.  These precooked and frozen mussels are usually what you will get in restaurants. They are available on the half shell, or simply as cooked meats – mighty easy I must say!
Why not explore mussels at home?  They really are an amazing fruit of the sea!  Recipes follow.
Simple Mussels, eggplant, mushrooms and squid ink pasta in Marinara or Vodka Sauce – get the recipe.
Thai Style Mussels Recipe
Very easy, serves 2-4, or more as an
48 Blue (black) mussels
1 TBS oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb ginger, minced
1/2 jalapeño, sliced
8-12 whole basil leaves
1/2 cup Chinese rice wine (or so)
1/2 cup water (or so)
juice of 1 1/2 limes
1 tsp. fish sauce
hearty pinch of sugar
Clean mussels well and set aside.  Heat oil in a wok or sauce pan, adding garlic.  When garlic begins to sizzle, add remaining ingredients, toss, taste and adjust as desired.  Add mussels and steam, removing as they gape open.  Serve with dipping sauce.
Dipping Sauce:
Crush 4-5 basil leaves with a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle.  Add 1-2 tsp. grated ginger, 1/2 tsp. grated garlic, 1 tsp. chile paste and 3/4 tsp. sugar – crushing to a paste.  Stir in 1 tsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. fish sauce and 1 tsp. rice wine and the juice of half to one lime.  Taste and adjust as desired.  Can also be made in a food processor.  Enough for a double batch of mussels.  – Chef Mick Rosacci, Tony’s Markets
Please share this with fellow foodies, ciao!

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