Seafood, generally speaking, is good for us, but it turns out all of us can be pretty darn bad for seafood. Wild-caught shellfish from environmentally sustainable fisheries (preferably as local as possible) typically rates high on seafood sustainability lists. Most of these shellfishes are really quick to cook too, making them easy on the energy budget. Mussels fit the bill all the way around.
The old rule on mussels used to be to buy about 1 pound per person. That may seem like a lot, but remember that for every shell that’s the size of a couple of index fingers or more, the meat inside will be about the size of your index fingertip down to the second joint. We actually feel just fine with a bit less–more like 3/4 pound each. For a first course, serve fewer–like, half or even a third of a pound or less per person.
For two adult servings, you’ll need
- shallots (a couple, minced) or the white part only of one good-sized leek, sliced in half lengthwise to clean out the grit and then sliced thinly across the shaft
- butter: a pat or so
- olive oil: about one tablespoon
- garlic: two small cloves, crushed or minced
- 1 1/2 pounds mussels
- 1-2 cups crisp white wine (A bottle of inexpensive wine is fine here. I used part of a $7 bottle of organic white wine. Doesn’t Two-Buck Chuck make a white? If so, feel free to use it. Just add a squeeze of lemon if the wine isn’t bright enough.)
- chervil, big stems removed, and thyme, leaves only, for edible garnish
I use a large stainless steel frying pan with a lid for cooking mussels. Saute the shallots or leeks in the butter and olive oil over low heat until they get a little caramelization. Add in your garlic for a couple of minutes, stirring to make sure the garlic doesn’t brown. Dump in the mussels. Pour on the wine. Put the lid on the pan. Peek in a couple of minutes. Are you mussels opening? Put the lid back on for a few minutes more to let the aromatics, mussels, and wine mingle. Turn off the heat.
What if a mussel doesn’t open? Toss it! It was not alive when you started and could be harboring disease. The good ones all opened.
Serve by divvying the mussels into bowls, sprinkling on the herbs, and then partitioning the broth equally among the bowls. Oh my goodness, the broth is so rich! To eat mussels, gently break apart a mussel and use the shell to scoop out the meat from the other side and other mussel shells. Serve mussels with a big, crusty roll to soak up the delicious broth that comes from the merging of wine, shellfish, and aromatics. Add in a big mesclun salad and a vegetable and you’ll have a fabulous meal.
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