I never knew how truly delightful mussels are were until the first time I ate some cultivated (farmed) ones. Prior to that, my family often dug mussels at low tide, carefully extracting their gleaming blueish-black shells from the sand. We’d put them in a bucket of salt water for a while, giving the molluscs time to expel some of the debris inside their shells. Despite our meticulous preparation, too often these foraged mussels were still gritty, occasionally even harbouring tiny, tooth-breaking pearls. Because cultivated mussels are grown floating in the ocean, in mesh bags attached to long ropes, they are extremely clean compared to their sand-collecting cousins, making them a pleasure to prepare and eat. Not only do mussels have a rich, meaty flavour, they are also very nutritious, high in protein and minerals while also low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. This is hands-down my favourite way to enjoy these treasures from the sea; be sure to serve this dish with lots of crusty bread to mop up the flavourful broth.
- 2 pounds (900 grams) of fresh mussels in their shells
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) butter
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ cup (120 mL) diced celery
- 1 cup (250 mL) white wine (can substitute with chicken broth but wine is best)
- Few grinds black pepper
- pinch red pepper flakes (optional but delicious)
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) minced fresh parsley
- Scrub mussels under cold, running water to remove the beards (fuzzy stuff that looks like lichen) – you may need a small knife to help with this task. Discard any mussels with broken shells or those that do not close up as they are being handled.
- In a large pot, melt butter.
- Sauté onion, garlic and celery over medium heat until soft.
- Add wine, black pepper and red pepper flakes to the pot; bring the mixture to a boil.
- Add mussels to the pot; cover and let simmer gently over medium-low heat until mussel shells have opened (this should take about 5 minutes).
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked mussels to two broad soup plates. Discard any mussels which have not opened.
- With a ladle, spoon the broth and vegetables over the mussels.
- Garnish with fresh parsley and serve immediately.
Makes 2 generous servings.