Mussel

Mussel

By
From
Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

A bluish-black edible mollusc, found clumped together on many coastlines and in estuaries, clinging tenaciously to any available support – rocks, poles, piers.

Whether you gather mussels yourself or buy them at the market, the rule is the same as for other shellfish; they must be alive when they are cooked. Live mussels hold their shells together so tightly it is difficult to prise them apart. Discard any with open shells, or any with a bad smell.

You will notice that most recipes call for a little wine to be used in the cooking of mussels, and that cooked mussels are often served on the half-shell with a sauce made from the cooking liquid. The true devotee will eat the mussels with a fork, then drink the sauce from the shell, the remaining sauce being mopped up with crusty bread.

Mussels are also sold bottled, in a briney solution or tinned – and sometimes smoked. Basic preparation: Buy at least 500 g mussels for each person. When you get home, rinse the mussels several times under cold running water, then thoroughly scrub each mussel with a clean, stiff brush or pot scourer to remove mud, seaweed or any dirt that may cling to them. Soak for several hours in water with a handful of oatmeal or cornmeal.

Pull away the beard that clings around the edge of the shell and discard any mussel which is not tightly closed; then rinse again under cold running water, and they are ready to cook. All this preparation may sound a little finicky, but the time spent is well repaid by the final, delicious results.

There are two methods for opening mussels. Either may be used when mussels are to be used for salads, etc.

To open mussels in the oven: Arrange the cleaned mussels in a single layer in a baking tin and place the tin in a preheated very hot oven for 7–8 minutes or until the shells have opened. Throw away any unopened mussels.

To steam open mussels: Put the cleaned mussels in a large saucepan with 250 ml water over high heat and steam the mussels, covered, shaking the pan once or twice, for 5–6 minutes or until the shells have opened. Discard any unopened shells.

Barbecued Mussels: If you can buy dried fennel stalks (often available from Continental fruit shops and some delicatessens) or gather them from the roadside, you will be able to enjoy this spectacular way of cooking mussels in the open.

Make a fire on the barbecue in your favourite way. Arrange prepared and cleaned mussels on a metal tray and strew a thick layer of dried fennel stalks over the top. Place the tray over the glowing coals, and then set fire to the fennel stalks. As they burn, the aromatic fennel flavour permeates the opening mussels, which is a marvellous combination. Remove the tray as soon as the mussels have opened, pick off any remaining stalks and serve on the shell with crusty bread and butter to mop up the juices.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
see method for ingredients

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