Mussels, glorious mussels!
Mussels, without a shadow of a doubt – are my absolute favourite seafood.
They are full of glorious, meaty flavour. I love how they sound as you swish them around in a pan, the clickity clack as the shells hit the edges.
They look wonderful too – the shells all black and shiny. And amazingly, in Australia anyway, they are super cheap!!!
However, mussels aren’t all fun and games.
The reality is, it takes a fair bit of work to prepare them, and sometimes the rules surrounding whether a mussel is safe to eat or not, can be really confusing.
But, don’t be afraid! Once you get a hang of how to prepare them, cooking is a breeze. The best news is …. Mussels are sooooo worth the effort!
So, here are a few tips to dealing with mussels.
– Buy them from reputable fish monger, or even better, straight off the trawler! Portarlington near Geelong (Victoria, Australia) is one of the best places to do this – especially at their annual mussel festival (http://www.portarlingtonmusselfestival.net.au/)
– Once you get your mussels home, you really need to use them that day for the best results. This is one thing that shouldn’t be stored too long. However, if you can’t prepare them right away – pop them in the fridge. Just make sure you don’t leave them wrapped in plastic – they should be kept in a container and covered lightly with a tea towel, to let them breath.
– Now – this part is important. As you are going through your mussels, some of them may be slightly open. Give them a sharp tap on the side of your kitchen sink. If they close tightly, they are fine cook. However – if they don’t – you must throw them away. They are dead and no good to eat.
– To prepare the mussels, give the shells a good scrub to remove any barnacles – I use a rough cleaning pad to do this (a fresh one out of the packet, not one I have used to scrub pots and pans … eewww!).
– Remove the beard (that’s the fibrous thing sticking out of the mussel) – give it a good, strong pull and it should come off.
That’s just about it – now it’s time to cook them and I have really beautiful recipe that can be used as either a starter or a main.
Mussels in white wine, chilli and tomatoes
– 500gm of mussels
– 3 tbs olive oil
– 3 rashers of bacon, cut into strips
– 1 red onion, finely diced
– 3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
– 1 red chilli, finely sliced (or you can add more, if you like it really hot)
– 1 cup of white wine
– 1 400gm can of chopped tomatoes
– 1 handful of basil, roughly torn
Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-based pan.
Cook the bacon, until it’s getting slightly crisp – then add the onion, garlic and chilli and season with salt and pepper. Cook over a medium heat until onion is soft.
Turn up the heat and add the wine, allowing it to simmer briskly for a minute or two.
Add the canned tomatoes and once they start to simmer. Add the mussels.
Cover and cook for a minute or two, or until the mussels have opened (it doesn’t take long – and this is how you tell they are ready). Add the fresh basil and serve.
Important: As you serve the dish into bowls, ensure that you discard any unopened mussels. If they are closed, then they are no good.
If you are cooking this as a main course, toss through some freshly cooked pasta at the end. If not, just serve mussels as they are, with some fresh sourdough bread to mop up all those awesome juices.
If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comments section below. Also, if you have any other tips for cooking mussels or seafood in general – I’d love to hear from you!