My favorite fish market brought in a special type of mussels this week – Bangs Island Mussels. Based on their recommendation I of course had to try them, so I ordered two pounds and did a bit of research on these little guys. Bangs Island Mussels are grown on ropes suspended above the ocean floor, by a father and son team dedicated to ocean sustainability and premium quality. The mussels spend their entire life in the water column in cool, clear waters of Casco Bay off the coast of Maine. They are positioned away from sandy, silty tidal areas, and as a result accumulate almost none of the grit you usually find with mussels. They are hand harvested, and I was happy to find have excellent flavor and an extremely high meat-to-shell ratio.
When buying mussels make sure they smell like the ocean and do not give off a fishy odor, and don’t buy any with cracked shells. Mussels that refuse to close their shells when you handle or tap them are most likely dying or dead and should be discarded. Try to cook mussels as soon as possible, unwrap them when you get home. If you have to wait to cook them, place the mussels in a bowl and cover them with a damp towel so they can breathe.
I love mussels cooked simply, so the full flavor of the mussel shines through. Moules Mariniere is a classic French preparation and a light way to prepare them, steamed in white wine and served in a sauce made from the cooking liquid, butter and shallots. It is great for an appetizer or a light lunch, and wonderful with a glass of white wine and some crusty French bread.
2 pounds of mussels
1/2 cup dry white wine, I used Castle Rock Chardonnay
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup shallots, minced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoons flour
1/4 cup Italian parsley, minced
1 Baguette or loaf of French bread
Prepare the mussels by scrubbing them under running water, and discard any that are wide open or refuse to close when you handle them. Check the closed mussels to see if any still have their beards, long hairy threads which anchor the mussel to surfaces. Pull the beard out slowly and strongly toward the hinge of the shell. After the mussels have been scrubbed clean and debearded, add them to a bowl of cold, salted water for 10-15 minutes, use 1 tablespoon of salt per quart of water.
In the bottom of a large pot, add 1/2 cup of dry white wine. Drain the mussels from the salt water and add them to the pot. Cover, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. As the mussels cook, they will release their highly flavored liquid into the wine. Cook until the shells have opened, and the mussels are just cooked, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Using tongs, carefully remove them from the pot and place in a bowl, including those that have freed themselves from the shell.
Let the liquid in the pot settle for a minute or two, so any grit left settles to the bottom. Gently pour the cooking liquid into a measuring cup, leaving the grit in the pot to discard later. If the liquid is still gritty, filter it through a cheesecloth or coffee filter.
Melt the butter in a sauté pan. Add the shallots and sauté for 2-3 minutes until they turn translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. If you like your sauce to be a little thick, I recommend adding a teaspoon or two of flour to the pan. Stir to combine and make sure there are no lumps of flour. Slowly add a cup of the reserved mussel cooking liquid to the sauté pan, stirring a minute or two over medium heat to create a smooth sauce. Add the minced parsley to the sauce.
Place mussels in serving bowls, and pour some of the sauce over each bowl of mussels. Serve immediately with your crusty French bread for dipping. Serves 2 for a light lunch or 4 for an appetizer.