A couple of weekends ago my wife asked me to make mussels. I hadn’t made them since culinary school years ago so I thought that sounded like an easy and interesting idea. I went to Barth’s market and bought some…which they sell in packs that weigh somewhere around two pounds. I didn’t really know how many pounds to buy so I googled it and the suggested serving size is around one pound per person so that was perfect. As it also turns out, one pound per person is a very healthy serving so if you are going to make mussels as part of a multi-course meal, you can definitely scale that back. We had some white wine open so I used it to steam the mussels. First though, I sweated a bit of pancetta to render out some fat, then cooked a bit of shallot in that. From there, you add the mussels and a splash of wine or some other liquid and a few minutes later they are completely finished. Once I got to the actual cooking the whole production took less than ten minutes to complete.
A quick note before we get to the recipe…mussels are sold while alive and spoil relatively easily so I suggest purchasing them on the day you actually use them. I stored mine in the mesh bag they came in and simply placed the bag on a bed of ice and left them in the refrigerator until I was ready to begin. To prepare them, you have to do just a couple of things. Prior to cooking, you need to go through each and every mussel to inspect them, looking for two things. First, you look to make sure they are completely closed. If they are not, squeeze them and if they stay shut after the squeeze then it’s safe to continue. If it stays open, it needs to be discarded. After that, you look for a stringy thing slightly hanging out of the shell, which is called a beard. If you see it or feel it on the shell, pull it out. Once you do those two things the mussels are ready to roll…pretty easy and it goes a lot more quickly than it perhaps sounds.
1 Bag (2 pounds) PEI mussels
½ Cup white wine
½ Cup diced pancetta
1 Cup diced shallot
1 Cup loosely packed Italian parsley leave, coarsely chopped
½ Cup loosely packed basil leaves
A small dash of coarse sea salt (mussels contain a natural amount of salt so go easy)
Dash red pepper flakes
- Clean and prepare the mussels by going through each one and checking to ensure that each one is closed and the beard (stringy material hanging out of the shell) is removed. If the mussel doesn’t close and stay closed it needs to be discarded as it is dead and is not fit for consumption.
- Once the mussels are cleaned and prepared, set aside on a bed of ice. Finely dice pancetta and shallot. Gather the remaining ingredients as the cooking will go quickly-there won’t be time to gather stuff once the cooking has begun.
- In a medium sized sauce pan, heat the pancetta slowly over medium-low heat. Allow the pancetta to sweat and the fat to render, stirring occasionally. Once pancetta become slightly crispy and a good amount of fat is rendered, remove pancetta from pan and place on a paper towel.
- Once the pancetta is removed, add the finely diced shallot and a dash of red pepper flakes. Allow shallots to sweat for a couple of minutes or until they become translucent.
- Turn heat up to high and add white wine (being careful while adding it if using a gas range or flame). Allow to cook for a minute or so and then add the mussels.
- Once the mussels are added, cover the pot immediately and allow to cook for three minutes. After that amount of time, check the pan and if the mussels are opened they are done. If not, allow to cook for another minute or two and check again. It really should take no longer than four or five minutes for them to finish.
- Remove from heat and place entire contents of pan in large bowl. Sprinkle the coarsely chopped parsley and basil and add to mussels. Stir herbs in very carefully, ensuring that the shells are not torn. Sprinkle reserved diced pancetta over the top if desired.
- Add a bit of coarse sea salt to bowl.
Serve immediately while piping hot with some crusty bread (to soak up all that natural liquid and wine).