Craig Claiborne once made a comment to the effect that "the main reason to cook mussels is to make the beautiful broth" into which crusty bread can be plunged, and I agree with him. I do like the little mussel morsels found inside the shell, but when faced with a bag of mussels I think most about how to flavor the broth. Last night my friend Julia showed me a simple, fast way to make mussels which produced the most intensely flavored broth I can remember. Served under candlelight on the porch on the most perfect of summer nights, with cold pino grigio and chunks of day-old ciabatta for dunking and mopping, it was the perfect summer appetizer.
Julia's Steamed Mussels
Serves 4 as an appetizerIngredients
- 2 pounds mussels
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Salt and hot sauce to taste
1. Wash* and debeard mussels if necessary. Pat shells dry.
2. Heat a large, heavy lidded pan over high heat until very hot. Place mussels in pan and cover tightly. Cook for 3-4 minutes until all mussels have opened (discard any that do not open).
3. Meanwhile, melt the butter over low heat and stir in the basil and oregano.
4. When the mussels are done, sprinkle with salt and add a few squirts of hot sauce. Pour in the butter mixture and stir.
To serve, bring the pan directly to the table and give the the mussels one more big stir before distributing them to the diners.
Note. Washing mussels. If you are using farmed mussels they will likely arrive without beards and fairly clean, so you can just run each of them under a stream of water and give them a quick brushing with a stiff brush. Mussels at rest in the refrigerator are normally open about an eighth of an inch. They should close when handled – discard any that remain open. If you are using wild-harvested mussels the process is more involved...the beard needs to be pulled forcefully from the mussel body and the whole thing subjected to a rigorous scrubbing. Remember, the shell and everything clinging to it will be in your broth!
With wild mussels you need to also watch for "mudders" – empty shells filled with mud. These can be spotted since they don't open all in the refrigerator and usually show no beard. If you suspect a mudder, try to open it by sliding the two shells in opposite directions with your fingers...a live mussel won't open this way but a mudder will. I've never found a mudder in a bag of farmed mussels, by the way...