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Tips on Preparing Mussels?

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  • thejulia Jun 16, 2005 05:54 PM
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I like mussels prepared simply, they're such a perfect finger food, briny and juicy, and so fun to share with friends! but i've never prepared them. however my friend and i decided to cook a simple dinner at home before going out, and eschewing or normal ridiculously expensive pre-clubbing dinner at trendy restaurant for some mussels, crusty bread, a simple salad and some wine. it'll be a lot cheaper.

before i start, i wanted to check to see if the hounds had any tips for buying and cleaning mussels. the recipe i have is very simple and from bouchon.

what should i look for/avoid when i buy my mussels?

what's the best way to clean them? (i really don't want to have grainy morsels)

do you find that asian markets have acceptable quality when it comes to mussels or shall i fork over more dough for the fancy fish marketS?

i have a recipe from bouchon that i'm using, but if anyone has other recipe suggestions feel free to post!

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  1. Most of the mussels in stores today are already cleaned and the beards have been removed. One of my favorite mussel dishes I ever had was in a little very French bistro, La Bouchee in London. They were served up with fennel, leeks and heavy cream.

    For 3 lbs. of mussels you will need 1 small leek, trimmed, split and cleaned. Then dry cut into julienne and set aside. Peel and julienne a small fennel bulb, mince 2 shallots. Then in the pot you will be steaming the mussels, melt about a half stick of unsalted butter and saute the leek and fennel until tender. Add the shallots and a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley. Add 2 c. dry vermouth, I prefer, French like Noilly Prat. Add some freshly ground white pepper and about 2-3 tsp, fresh thyme, you can leave it on the stem. Then add your mussels, you may want to rinse them first and discard any which remain open. Then bring to a boil, covered about 5 minutes discard any that do not open. Divide the mussels among soup plates. Add about 1/2-3/4 C. heavy cream or creme fraiche to the pot of broth. Stir to combine bring to a boil and reduce by about 1/3. Strain the broth over the mussels and serve sprinkled with a bit more chopped parsley.

    We do this with a group every December as a first course then followed by a crisp green salad and either seared foie gras or a foie gras terrine and excellent baguettes which my DH makes. It is a feast.

    The recipe I gave yo should serve 4-6, for 8 of us we usually but 5-6 lbs. of mussels.

    1. If you find some that still have beards, the best tool is needlenose pliers. Hold a mussel in your left palm, and grab as much of the beard as you can with the pliers (right hand), clamp down, and gently move the pliers to the right while keeping your palms pretty close together. I find a rotating motion of my right hand is best. Make sure you're grabbing the beard as close to the shell as you can.

      You'll want to do this right before cooking because it usually kills the mussel. This is just for really picky people. Candy's right that most markets sell pretty clean mussels. When you buy them, just don't pick the ones that have a whole bunch of hair.

      Also pick large ones that are clamped tight, or that clamp down when you poke at them. In Los Angeles the Asian markets almost always have large green mussels (3 inches long or bigger) which I like much better than the small black mussels (two inches, tops), which seem to be what I find most of the time in the Bay Area. If the water that the mussels are in is slimy, not clear, or smells stinky, go to a different market. It, like all seafood, should smell like nothing. Or at most, salty like the ocean.

      1. Thanks very much for tips and recipes so far! I definintely have to try the fennel cream preparation. Unfortunately, these mussels will be in the bay area, and I never see PEI (green) mussels around here in the stores either. My local asian market's water might be a little too murky for my tastes given nooodle's comments.

        4 Replies
        1. re: thejulia

          I thought that PEI mussels are black while the green ones are from New Zealand? Anyhow, I haven't had mussels in a long time, and your post is making me crave them. I haven't made them at home myself, but from recipes, they sound so quick and easy!

          The preps I've enjoyed the most are usually classic...shallots, white wine, parsley, little cream. Not sure if broth is added.

          A great one that I had during the fall a long time ago had a roasted tomato broth w/ bacon and herb (thyme?). Smoky and divine!

          I'm also wanting to try an Asian variation: sake (or white wine), coconut milk, curry powder, lemongrass. Think that would be great in summertime. Good luck!

          1. re: Carb Lover

            My all time favorite is a place in D.C. now called Ginger Cove/Ginger Reef, they do them in a spicy coconut curry broth that is out of this world. Lady PB isn't a mussels fan but I couldn't keep her pieces of bread from soaking up a good portion. If you run across a recipe along these lines please share.... must go empty my drool cup now.

            1. re: Carb Lover

              PEI farmed mussels are indeed the common blue, or edible, mussel of the East Coast (and elsewhere), Mytilus edulis. They are unexceptionally excellent. Green-lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus) are from New Zealand, and I'm sure have been introduced to other places as well.

              1. re: Carb Lover

                oops! thanks carb lover, you're right. i think i've been to a lot of restaurants that will say PEI mussels and then substitute frozen new zealand ones. grr.

            2. I would like to say that I agree with 'Noodles' post below. I would like to add that choose mussels that are heavy for their size. As far as preparation, I agree simple is best. My favorite is white wine, shallot (and/or garlic), and finish with unsalted butter. Another tip I can offer is the pan you use cannot be too hot, cook mussels over extremely high heat. (another tip if using extremely hot pan: add shallot or garlic after you add your mussels - so they don't burn) I hope this info has been useful.

              1. d
                Doktor Faustus

                I don't have much to add, other than that simply prepared mussels -- wine, shallots, cream -- go very well with chilled Muscadet white wine.

                I follow Elizabeth David's "Moules a la Normande" wherein chopped shallots are briefly sauteed in some butter in a large pot, white wine is added, the mussels steamed open, the mussels removed, wine and mussel liquids reduced, cream added and simmmered to thicken, and then this sauce poured over the mussels which have had 1/2 of their shell removed and placed on a large plate. You could strain the sauce, but I typically do not. I usually put the sauce in a separate bowl and spoon the sauce over each mussel in its shell as I eat it. Pouring the sauce into each shell in advance and then not spilling the sauce out of the shells is too much trouble. For 3 LBS of mussels, about 1/4 cup butter, 4-6 shallots, 1/2 cup to 1 cup of white wine, 1/2 cup heavy cream. Moules a la Normande, crusty french bread spread with sweet unsalted butter, some cold muscadet, and Doktor Faustus is happy!

                1. Most of the mussels we buy in the DC area are from the Great Eastern Farms in Maine. They are pre-bagged and because they are grown on ropes, tend to be very clean in comparison to the muddy mussels of my youth. The cleaning process consists of checking for dead mussels (2-6 per bag usually) which are either smashed or open, and removing 1-2 beards per bag.

                  We toured the mussel-growing area of Prince Edward Island last summer. PEI is one of the other major sources for "farmed" mussels. The "farming" consists primarily of dangling ropes in the water for the wild spawn to attach to. They use the wild, naturally occurring spawn, so unlike a lot of aquaculture, there is no potential for contaminating the wild stock with the domestic farmed variety.

                  The advantage to buying mussels in a bag instead of by the pound from the fish case is that you can see the expiration date on each bag. Get the freshest mussels you can. They are definitely more plump and tender when fresher.

                  I must be in the minority when it comes to the green-lipped mussels. I find them tough and rubbery. Maybe you can get them live on the west coast. Around here they are precooked and frozen.

                  Mussels are one of our family's regular treats. We get 2 bags for the three of us (me, spouse, 5 year-old). That's a lot, but 1 bag isn't quite enough.

                  My three standard preparations are a Belgian style (1 bottle beer, fresh thyme, shallots, garlic) a Thai style (sake, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, keffir lime leaves, thai basil) or a garlic, ginger and black bean preparation.

                  Link: http://www.eatmussels.com/

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: PollyG

                    I don't really care for the green-lipped either. Sure they're plumper and very pretty, but flavor and texture not as good as PEI ones I've had.