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Ingredients

Mussel and sea date

Left to right: New Zealand green, cultivated blue, blue

Other Names: Mediterranean mussel: Cozza (Italian); mejillón mediterràneo (Spanish); mexilhão do Mediterrâneo (Portuguese); moule méditerranéenne, moule de Toulon (French); mydi (Greek). Common mussel: Mejillón (Spanish); mexilhao (Portuguese); miesmuschel (German); mitilo (Italian); moule commun (French); murasakiigai (Japanese); peocio (Venice). New Zealand green mussel: Greenlipped mussel; greenshell
mussel (Great Britain); moule verte (French). Sea date: Dátil de mar (Spanish); datte de mer (French); dattero di mare (Italian); ishimate (Japanese); lithofágos, solína (Greek); meerdattel (German); tamr de bahr (Tunisia). Mytilidae.

General Description: The mussel (Mytilus edulis_) was once held in low esteem in America, but it has become an aqauculture and culinary success story. The Mediterranean blue mussel (_M. galloprovincialis) is native to the Mediterranean and is preferred in Europe. It is smaller and a bit more rounded than the blue mussel. Wild mussels are found
in intertidal zones on rocks and pilings and have “beards” (byssus threads) that they use to anchor themselves. Mussels are a Belgian national obsession. Mussels are farmed on ropes or in mesh bags suspended from rafts.

The New Zealand green mussel (Perna canaliclus) is native to New Zealand and only found there. Green mussels have a long, large shell that is a striking brown-green ranging to deep green at the lip. Growing standards, including water quality and production levels, are tightly regulated.

The sea date (Lithophaga lithophaga) is a prized but now rare and endangered mussel from the Mediterranean. It grows extremely slowly, taking ten years to reach maturity. It is difficult to harvest, and in most Mediterranean countries, harvesting has been banned. Sea dates are eaten raw, simmered in risotto, or added to fish and seafood stew.

Locale and Season: Blue mussels are farmed in France, Great Britain, China, Spain, Korea, on both American coasts, and on Prince Edward Island, Canada. European mussels are farmed on the Pacific Northwest coast. Mussels are less plump for a few weeks after spawning in summer.

Characteristics: Mussels are sweet, tender, delicate, plump, and juicy and vary from creamy colored in males to apricot for females. Color has no effect on flavor. Green mussels grow to more than 8 inches long, though market size
is about 4 inches. Cultivated mussels are harvested at 2 to 3 inches and cost more than wild but are easier to use. Because they are grown on ropes suspended above the sea floor, they are quite clean with their beards removed before sale. Unlike blue mussels, the green mussel’s shell gapes open naturally, which New Zealanders call “smiling.”

How to Choose: Mussels should taste and smell fresh and sweet and have tightly closed shells full of juice. Bags of mussels must display the license number of the shipper. Buy
only from certified growers. New Zealand mussels are also frozen whole or on the half shell.

While there are many places where mussels can be gathered wild, these can be dangerous to eat because mussels are susceptible to pollution and disease.

Storage: If possible, cook mussels the day you buy them. Mussels will stay alive longest if their beard is attached.
Refrigerate covered with a damp towel up to 2 days. Store frozen mussels up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator and eat within 2 days.

Preparation:

1. Sort the mussels, discarding any that are broken or
not tightly closed. If slightly open, try pressing the edges together. If the mussel closes up, it is alive. Often, the beard has already been removed. If not, pull off and discard just before cooking.

2. Scrub with a brush under cold running water.

3. Mussels can be steamed and grilled in the shells (remove each mussel once it opens); broiled, breaded and deep-fried, pan-fried, stuffed and baked, hot-smoked, or sautéed out of the shell.

Suggested Recipe: Baked Mussels with Spinach and Saffron Cream (serves 4): Steam open 2 pounds cleaned mussels with 1/2 cup white vermouth in a large pot. Remove the mussels from their shells, reserving meats and shells. Strain the juices through a dampened paper towel set in a sieve and cook in a medium pot along with 1/4 cup each chopped shallots and fennel, a large pinch of saffron, and 1 cup heavy cream until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in 1/2 pound wilted and squeezed spinach and 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Combine 1/2 cup bread crumbs with 2 tablespoons butter. Place the mussels back in half shells and spoon the spinach mixture over top. Sprinkle with the crumbs
and bake at 425°F for 10 minutes, or until browned.

Flavor Affinities: Beer, celery, cream, curry, garlic, harissa, leek, mustard, Pernod, potato, saffron, shallot, spinach, tarragon, tomato, white vermouth, white wine.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com