Yes, mussels! What lovely wonderful little pieces of joy. If you have only ever had these little bits of seafood heaven in pre-made dishes like frozen paella or some other sadly cooked dish and disliked them, you have every right to! However, if you have never had them other then in dishes like that, you are sadly missing out!
When made in those pre-made BS of things they go hard or rubbery. Worse yet, they aren't the best of the best. Now normally I'd suggest going to a well know seafood restaurant but you and I both know that is not the best suggestion for someone having to live gluten free. So instead I give you the suggestion that you get up the nerve to do something you might not normally do and go down to your well known fish monger and ask for a couple pounds of fresh mussels. I like the smaller French mussels myself but the type of mussels you will be able to get will depend on where you live in the world. If you are just going to steam mussels and eat them that way, any will do but the smaller ones have a much more intense flavour while the larger ones have more meat to bite so the pick is yours.
Today I'll be picking myself up a kilo of both. For today I will simply steam the larger Holland ones in white wine with garlic and then tomorrow I shall use the smaller French ones to make a wonderful cream soup that has a bit of onion and curry powder. I've made it before but it's been a while.
I have to admit the first time I bought mussels, I was intimidated by them. These hard shelled little annoying things but once you do them for the first time you start to get a feel for them and what you should do with them. I find there is only one 'hard' thing about making fresh mussels but all in all the results are worth it. That would be the cleaning/prep part of it all. When you have 1 kilo (2.2pounds) of them, especially of the small ones, this can get rather boring and annoying while the larger ones are a little less of a pain. You need to do 2 things to 'clean' them and those are namely remove the 'beards' which they don't always have but you'll find along the flat side of the shell, just grab hold and pull in a downward direction (toward the point of the shell) to free it and then scrape off any barnacles or other stuff from the shell with a dull knife.
Most suggest using a towel to help clean mussels but if you've been following my blog since the beginning you'll remember that I have a best friend in my kitchen when it comes to pre-paring food.... powder free vinyl gloves (kind of like you'd find doctors using). These are a life saver of time when it comes to cleaning mussels and will save your towels and hands smelling of sea water. While cleaning your mussels you'll also want to pay attention to open ones. If you have some that are open, tap them with your cleaning knife on the shell.. if they are still alive, they should close up but if they don't respond, they are dead or dying and you should toss them out before even cooking them.
If you were smart while preparing these, you will have taken them from the container you were holding them in while cleaning and placed them in another clean bowl... with or without water, doesn't matter. What you don't want to do is clean your mussels, placing them back into your original bowl and then at the end 'pour' them into another bowl. Instead if you choose to do this, hand place the mussels into your clean bowl because if you just simply pour them into the new bowl, any pieces from the shells or sand that have fallen to the bottom will come with and end up right on top of your freshly cleaned mussels.... mussels + sand = gritty/poorly cooked mussels = YUK!
After this annoying and time taking task of cleaning, mussels are down right easy to prepare! Especially if you plan to eat them from the shell while only slightly more work to be had if you need the flesh only from them. Cooking is simple as what you really want to do is steam them. For this I use 1 cup dry white wine and a teaspoon or so of dry garlic granules (not garlic powder but a bit bigger pieces and still dry) or you can I suppose use garlic puree as well for every kilo (2pounds roughly) of mussels. Carefully add the mussels to the wine/garlic, cover and simmer for about 10mins. You'll know when they are done when the shells all open completely. This is also a stage where you want to be watchful and pick out any shells that have not opened and throw them out.
Most soup recipes will ask for the broth from the mussels to be kept and used.... DO THIS! It's fresh mussel juice, wine and garlic! It's a wonderful seafood broth. I wouldn't keep it more then 1 day though and most of the time I use it for my soup right away as I'll be using the mussels themselves for the soup too.
For now though, I'll leave you with some wonderful images that my husband took of the last batch of mussels we bought, steamed and turned into a different cream soup then I'll make this weekend (I've got a few of them). They look so wonderful don't they? And yes this is something that you won't be able to resist tasting as soon as they are ready to drain and personally I would even suggest you do!