Monday, April 25, 2016

I Can Make That Too: Mussels in Mom’s Kitchen vs. the Restaurant Version

Mussels from Mom's Kitchen
I started loving mussels when I lived in London and could buy fresh ones at the fishmonger’s stall in the Tachbrook Street Market, near Victoria Station. This was before mussel farming began in earnest, so the mussels I got were wild ones, often with barnacles attached to their shells.

Cleaning the mussels took ages and sometimes required a hammer and flat-head screwdriver to knock off the barnacles.  They had to go because they were likely to be full of sand.  I also had to yank out the mussels’ beards—a bunch of threads that help the mussel attach to an underwater surface.  That took brute strength. 

You really have to like mussels to put yourself through the prep.  Cooking them, however, is a snap.  All you need are a pot and lid plus some onion, garlic, parsley and white wine.  In 10 minutes you’re ready to eat. 

Raw mussels may be hard to find.  The ones flown in from New Zealand are especially tasty, but mussels bought from any reputable store should be fine.  Keep them in the refrigerator either in a bowl of water or wrapped loosely in paper—not tightly wrapped in plastic because they will suffocate.  Aim to eat them within 24 hours. 

If all this seems too complicated, consider flying to Paris to visit a chain of restaurants called Léon de Bruxelles, which specializes in Moules Frites (Mussels and French Fries). I ate an enormous bowl of Moules Marinieres, along with a side of fries, there not long ago for $25. 

Mussels from Léon de Bruxelles
Moules Marinieres - serves 2 
2 pounds mussels in their shells 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1/4 cup finely chopped onions 
1 tablespoon chopped garlic 
2/3 cup white wine 
1/2 cup chopped parsley 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1/2 loaf French bread 
French fries (optional) 
An hour or two before cooking, put the mussels in a bowl of cold water in the sink so that they will open and any sand inside the shells will float out and settle at the bottom.  Check each mussel to see if it’s alive by tapping its open shell.  It should close when touched.  If it doesn’t, it’s dead and should be discarded.  Also discard mussels with broken shells.  If any shells feel very heavy, check to make sure they are not simply full of sand or mud.   
Remove the mussels’ beards and scrub the shells. 
Begin heating the oil in a large pot over medium high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onion has begun to soften.  Add the wine, parsley, salt and black pepper and bring to a boil over high heat.  
Drain the cleaned mussels and add them to the pot. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, shaking the pot every minute or so.  Check to see if the mussels have opened.  If they haven’t, cook for another minute.  If they have, serve in soup bowls with some hot liquid from the pot poured on top.  Offer French bread and French fries (if desired).  
          For easy-to-make recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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