Last Spring while travelling in England on the drive up to Cley Next the Sea, my friend Michael and I had stopped for lunch at the White Horse Inn in the tiny village of Brancaster Staithe. This inn has gorgeous views across tidal marshes and sandy beaches and their food and locally brewed Oyster Catcher beer are excellent. Here, we had a mega portion of mussels each, literally a bucket full, and they were probably the very best mussels I have ever eaten. They were done simply- with a white wine, cream and garlic sauce and hunks of bread on the side.
There must have been a hundred mussels in my pot that day and I ate every last one of them.
Needless to say, I love mussels. But I must confess, I have never made them at home. I’ve never even thought to make them at home. It was always one of those things you order in a restaurant- like lobster or steak tartare. An indulgence and something you splurge on!
This recipe was incredibly easy. Once I got over the thought of cleaning them at home, soaking and rinsing and taking the beard off, it really was a simple process.
Moules Mariniere or Fisherman’s Mussels is actually a quick, easy and inexpensive dinner that only seems extravagant.
Here’s a few tips I learned about buying, storing and cooking mussels-
1. Buy fresh mussels from a reputable seafood counter. The mussels should close when tapped or should already be closed. If they are broken or chipped or don’t close, they might be dead. Discard any that may be dead. They should always be alive when you buy them. (For a tip on when to find fresh Mussels, just remember the “R Rule”. Shellfish are generally harvested in any month that has the letter “R” in it.*)
2. You really should cook mussels the same day you buy them to ensure freshness, but if you do have to store them, if even for a few hours, place them in a bowl. Don’t store them in a plastic bag. Remember, they are alive and you really want to keep them that way. A bag would suffocate them.
3. To clean mussels, soak them in a bowl of fresh water for 15 minutes, scrub any barnacles or dirt off the shell and rinse them. Remove the “beard” (a long dark frizzy string) by pulling it towards the hinge. It may be hard to do, and you may have to use pillars or brute force! Drain the dirty water and sand from the bowl and add fresh water and let them soak again for another 15 minutes. Rinse and they should be ready to go.
4. The key to cooking the mussels is steaming them in a broth or wine or a combination of the two. They cook very fast and with the lid of a pot securely on, it takes only about 3-5 minutes. After 3 minutes, all the mussels should be open. If not, replace the lid for another 2 minutes to see if any unopened mussels will open. Throw away any that didn’t open. (These are the ones that will make you sick!)
I did make a few minor adjustments to Dorie’s recipe. Right at the end I added a bit of cream to the broth and I left out the lemon peel. I was trying to recapture the flavor of those mussels from Brancaster. These didn’t quite compare, but they sure were good nonetheless and I am excited to make these again very soon!
* The R Rule, while it may folklore nowadays with suppliers from all over the world providing shellfish to stores and fishmongers, it’s still practiced in some parts where shellfish are locally harvested. Basically, in warmer months- May-August – the water temps rise and red tides, vast blooms of algae that collect along coastlines in warm weather, can spread toxins that are soaked up by the shellfish. Also, summer is a time when shellfish spawn. As any oyster lover (not me!) can tell you, a fertile oyster apparently turns thin, milky and soft — kinda more gross actually! So unless it’s been shipped in, avoid the local oysters in the summer. And of course, shellfish can spoil easily on a hot day if not stored properly. This won’t really make them toxic but it will make them stinky and might cause some serious tummy troubles.
While I cannot share the actual recipe, you can (and should!) buy the book and cook along with us. It’s great fun! Every Friday we make a new recipe. Looking forward to next weeks! For details and to see how others are recreating the dishes from this awesome book, check out the FFWD site.
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