Most of the time, budget cooking and seafood don’t belong in the same sentence, especially here in the Midwest where our fresh seafood options are limited.
But mussels are the exception to this rule. They are an affordable, delicious and easy to prepare fresh seafood that can fit into any budget.
Mussels are cheap, usually around $3 per pound or less, depending on where you live and the time of year. Although I have seen them sold frozen, usually you buy them while they are still alive for the best flavor.
You can tell if a mussel is alive because it will shut its shell tight. Sometimes, though, if the mussel is refrigerated or goes from one temperature extreme to another, it will open its shell slightly. In this case, you simply pinch it shut slightly. If the mussel shuts all the way itself, it is still alive.
If a mussel’s shell is gaping open, it is dead and should be thrown away.
Some fish mongers will de-beard the mussels for you, but in some cases you will need to remove the mussel’s beard yourself. It’s super easy: You just grab the little furry seaweed-looking doo-hickey hanging out of the shell and pull it off.
Once all the mussels have been de-bearded, you should rinse them under cold water in a colander to remove any debris. If they still have mud or the occasional barnacle stuck to their shell, you can scrub them with a wire brush or steel wool.
Mussels grow just about anywhere there is water. There are even mussels in Lake Michigan here in Chicago! But most eating mussels in the US come from gigantic mussel farms in the Gulf of Mexico and on the West Coast. They are grown on thick ropes that are lowered into the water.
Mussels are also very versatile. They can be served hot or cold, and can accompany almost any dish. I have used them in the half shell as garnish for salads. I often featured a steaming bowl of fresh mussels as an appetizer on my restaurant menus.
In this recipe, I simply served them with some leftover pasta and marinara, garnished with a little chopped parsely for a delicious springtime lunch.
1 lb live mussels
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup leeks, julienned
1/4 cup white onion, julienned
1 clove garlic, crushed
Fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 cup parsley chopped
1. There is nothing easier than cooking steamed mussels. Start by putting a pot with a lid on the fire and add your wine, leeks and white onions. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the leeks and onions are softened, about two minutes.
2. Next, add the mussels and garlic, cover tightly with a lid, turn heat back up to high and cook until all the mussels are opened, about three or four minutes. Occasionally shake the pot to stir up the mussels.
3. As the mussels cook, they release a flavorful liquid called the “pot liquor” which combines with the wine and juices from the vegetables to make an incredible natural broth. To me, that broth is the best part of steaming mussels.
4. Transfer mussels to a serving bowl and pour pot liquor over the top. Garnish with chopped parsely. Or plate the mussels as the garnish for another dish if you like, such as pasta or salad.
Are you mad about mussels? If so, what is your favorite way to prepare them? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!