By Barbara Beltrami
Mussels are the unsung heroes of the fish market. It must be because they’re so inexpensive when compared to other shellfish; it’s certainly not because they aren’t tasty. Their briny succulence renders them ideal for those sloppy no-nonsense summer meals where lots of paper napkins and no fancy manners rule. This is where huge bowls and platters dominate the table and the dark blue mounds of the mussels against the yellow pyramids of corn on the cob create a colorful mouth-watering still life. There are so many ways to prepare mussels and I can’t think of any that aren’t wonderful sources for puddles of broth to sop up with slabs of bread.
For all recipes select tightly closed mussels and soak them in cold water for two hours; discard any that float. Scrub and rinse them well and pull off any beards that cling.
YIELD: Makes 4 servings
4 dozen mussels, in shells, cleaned
Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 teaspoon saffron
3 cups strained mussel broth
4 egg yolks
Fennel leaves for garnish
Pour one inch water into large nonreactive pot; add lemon juice, salt, pepper and mussels; cover and steam until shells open, about 3 minutes; remove and drain. Remove mussels from shells, reserve half the mussel shells and pull away and discard any remaining beard. Keep mussels hot over steam. Strain broth through fine sieve; pour 3 cups broth into medium saucepan; dissolve saffron in 1/2 cup of that broth, then add to remaining broth in saucepan; stir well and boil two minutes over medium heat.
Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat; stir in flour until mixture is very smooth, then dissolve mixture, stirring constantly with wire whisk, in broth; bring to a boil while still constantly stirring, then remove from heat and set aside to cool. In large mixing bowl beat egg yolks until foamy; very slowly pour cooled sauce over them, stirring constantly until well blended; transfer to large saucepan, place over medium heat and stir constantly until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Place mussels in reserved shells, place in ramekins, pour sauce over them, garnish with fennel and serve immediately with a tomato salad.
YIELD: Makes 4 servings as an appetizer; 2 servings as an entrée.
4 dozen mussels in shells, cleaned
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 ounces butter
1 large onion, minced
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon curry powder or to taste
1/4 cup mussel broth
1/4 cup sour cream
Pour one inch water into large pot; add salt, pepper and mussels; cover and steam until shells open, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove mussels from pot, drain, remove from shells and pull away any remaining beard. Strain broth through sieve; set mussels and broth aside.
In medium-large skillet over medium heat melt butter; add onion, celery and parsley; sauté until onion and celery soften, about 3 to 5 minutes, then add wine. In small bowl, blend curry powder with 1/4 cup mussel broth; add to skillet and simmer gently about 5 minutes; add mussels and stirring gently, cook until they are heated through, about 3 minutes. Add sour cream, stir one minute and serve hot with rice.
Mussel and Garlic Soup
YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings
4 pounds mussels, cleaned
7 to 8 cups chicken broth or water
6 heads garlic, broken into unpeeled cloves
1 sprig fresh sage
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley
Freshly squeezed juice of one lime
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 to 6 slices toasted rustic bread
Extra virgin olive oil
In large pot, steam mussels in one inch of broth or water until they open, about 3 minutes; remove all mussels, both ones that remain in the shell and those that have fallen out; set aside. Strain the liquid in a fine sieve. In large saucepan combine strained mussel liquid with remainder of broth.
Tie herbs together; place in pot of liquid along with garlic; cover and bring to simmer. Continue to simmer until garlic is soft, about 45 minutes. Discard herbs; put garlic and broth through a strainer and press garlic with back or spoon to mash pulp into broth; discard garlic skins; add lime juice, salt and pepper, stir and heat.
Return mussels to broth and simmer just enough to heat them through. Lay toast slices in individual bowls, drizzle with olive oil and ladle mussels and broth over them. Serve hot with corn on the cob.