My recent success w/ cooking bivalve mollusks (clams) at home had boosted my confidence to try black mussels. I've steamed mussels eons ago but haven't done so in a while since I wasn't quite sure where to procure good ones. My Sun. farmer's market carries black mussels (I think wild) that come from WA state, so I bought a scant 2 lbs. for me and the husband.
First, compared to clams, you get alot more bang for the buck w/ mussels, and these were $1 less per pound. Generally speaking, clam shells are much heavier and the nugget of meat is smaller while these shells are quite light, more fragile and the insides are filled w/ succulent meat (some were nearly 2" in length!). The PEI black mussels that I've had in restaurants were much smaller than these though. These weren't as sweet as PEI ones or clams, but had a mellow briny flavor and plump, smooth texture. Like the clams, the liquor that melded into the sauce was other-worldly.
I wanted to replicate a steamed mussels dish I once ate in Missouri (believe it or not!) yrs. ago that I still remember to this day. My husband is astonished that I can still remember it. Here's a rough recipe:
Carb Lover's Steamed Mussels
Serves 2 as a light supper
About 2 lbs. black mussels, scrubbed w/ any beards removed right before cooking
1-2 strips of bacon, cut into small bits
1 TB butter, unsalted
2 small leeks or 1 medium, pale tender parts, sliced
1-2 c. medium-bodied white wine (I used chardonnay-viognier blend)
2 small red tomatoes or 1 medium, diced (I used dry-farmed Early Girl)
heavy cream, to taste
S&P, to taste
In small soup pot, saute bacon to render the fat and remove when browned and semi-crisp. Reserve a little bacon fat and add butter. Saute sliced leeks til transluscent but not browned. Deglaze pan w/ white wine. Add 1/2-1 c. water to dilute wine a bit. Add generous amount of wine and water if you want lots of broth. Bring to boil, add tomatoes, reserved bacon, and black pepper. Carefully layer in mussels. Cover and turn down to medium til mussels open, about 8-10 min. Transfer mussels into serving bowls. If some don't open, then let them steam a little longer. For broth, add little cream to finish. Taste and adjust S&P. Reduce sauce if desired. To serve, pour broth over mussels and garnish w/ chives. Serve w/ crusty bread.
Comments: This dish was very nice and flavors were on the "heavy" side for seafood though not overpowering. I had so much broth that we eventually pulled out spoons and ate it like a chowder! Heavenly...
1. Most of these were large but we had a few smallish ones and didn't notice too much difference in flavor. Are smaller ones generally more sweet?
2. I read in Bourdain's book that the bearded mussels indicate that they're wild. I forgot to ask the seafood vendor about this, so since mine were bearded, are they definitely wild? What's the flavor difference btwn. wild and cultivated?
3. All of the mussels were tightly closed and seemed alive before I cooked them; however, there were about 5 that were really stubborn about opening up, even after 15 min. of steaming. My greedy husband pried them open and ate all but the one that kind of smelled funny and looked gray. He said they were delicious and nothing bad happened. What do others do in this case? I want to be safe but not waste something perfectly edible...
4. I plan to make the traditional French moules marinieres using Bourdain's recipe. Anyone try this recipe yet? I think it's also time to make some frites to go along w/ this for a truly transcendent experience. Never had moules frites before, so are they just basic twice-fried frites piled on top? Any other garnishes or sauces?
Thanks for any info and for enduring another long post!