Friday, February 24, 2012

Mussels of Love !

I grew up in the Chicago area. A land with a lot of ethnic neighborhoods, fantastic hot dog stands and places that always cut pizza into squares. The first time I saw pizza cut into a wedge it felt like I entered a different dimension or something. Fridays at that time meant Fish Fries of haddock, trout, cod and assorted whitefish. Fried clam strips were also very popular, but today it seems no one offers them.  Bivalves like oysters, clams and mussels were available in canned form only- unless you were willing to pay a very hefty price. Then sometime in the late 80's, greater options , including fresh bivalves at a reasonable price became available. I had seen them in the fish counters, but did not buy them for a long time because I thought you had to take a special knife, shuck them and in the process potentially lose a finger due to the lack of a chainmail glove and improper knife. Turns out that unless you are speaking of oysters, scallops or abalone, I was mistaken. You only need to steam these babies, and it can be done in a variety of different liquids.

Mussels and clams are super easy to cook and prepare ! Today , the ones sold in the fish counter of supermarkets are often cleaned and ready to cook. Bring them home , remove the plastic and store them in the fridge for a day. Because these fellas are alive and require seawater to remain alive ( do not store them in fresh water, or you will kill them), they are best cooked the day you buy them. Remove any plastic wrapping, give them a rinse, discard any that are open ( exception- ones that are slightly open but you can push closed easily are okay) and remove any stringy things on the outside of the shell ( this is called the beard.). With a little effort and some basic vegetables, you wind up with a dish that looks beautiful, plentiful and tastes absolutely wonderful ( and is very nourishing !)

                                                    Steamed Mussels

2 lbs black mussels, washed and picked to discard any open ones
3 cloves garlic, peeled, germed and sliced
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 small handful parsley, chopped
1 lemon , sliced
1/ 2 bottle white wine OR 6 cups water ( I prefer the water)

In a dutch oven melt the butter, add the olive oil and saute the onions and garlic. Add the wine or water, the lemon and parsley and bring to a boil. Add the mussels, cover , and let cook for about 3 minutes, or until the mussels are opened. Remove from the heat and serve- discard any that have not opened. To eat, simply suck out the mussel or pick it out with a fork. These guys are so delicious you could easily consume pounds of them in one sitting.

My only problem with these is that I want to figure out a really neat use for the leftover shells ! Too big for earrings and not flexible enough for make shift castanets, and too big to incorporate in something like a seashell tissue cover. Perhaps I should fire up my glue gun and make one of these:
I could hang it in my kitchen as an homage to my love of these tasty little guys ! Or perhaps I should dream of a way for my husband to land a job somewhere on the Atlantic coast and spend my days combing the rocks on the beaches for mussels and cook them on the spot. This would probably pose an environmental hazard over time, so it is probably best that I just remain content to live in the midwest and buy them from the supermarket as often as I can.

I understand that clams cook in a similar fashion. I believe I should do some investigation and experimentation with this.All in the name of education, after all.

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