Every year, I look forward to late winter/early spring for mussels! I’m no expert on selecting mussels, so what I’m conveying here is simply my opinion, based on experience. I live just a mere five-minute drive to one of the world’s finest mussels: the Pacific Northwest’s Penn Cove Mussels of Whidbey Island! They are grown, harvested and shipped, worldwide! In town, they are sold at an average of $4.25 per pound, but with a current shellfish license, I can harvest up to ten pounds of mussels myself, per day! They are much easier to gather than clams because there is no digging involved. All you need is a container to put them in, boots to slog around in the water and gloves to protect your hands. I go at a low tide of one foot or less, so the freshest mussels are exposed. Here is why I I look forward to the time frame mentioned earlier: they are sweeter during this time of year than at other times. The challenge though is finding low tides conducive for gathering. The best tides seem to occur during the midnight/early morning hours throughout the fall and winter. They start to roll around to better gathering tides in February or March. Our annual Penn Cove Mussel Festival is the first weekend in March which lends credence to my opinion about the mussels being best at this time of year.
For gathering, I choose mussels that are large and as clean as possible. By that, I mean mussels that have little or no barnacles on them. To me, these guys have grown fairly cleanly and are perhaps younger than the “barnacled” mussel. Besides, they are the best presentation and easiest to prepare for cooking. It’s easy to get crazy and gather the ten-pound limit, but I recommend that if you want to gather them, only gather what you need for the meal at hand, unless you plan to smoke a bunch of them (they are tasty that way, too!). Even though I try to be conservative, because I only need to cook for two people, I still end up with more than I need. They don’t keep that well and I don’t recommend freezing them, either. Again, this is just my opinion. The other option, of course, and the easiest thing to do, is to simply buy them in the store. They’ll be clean and ready for you. Still, I love the adventure of gathering them and if you have children who are old enough to go gathering with you, bring them along. It’s a good learning opportunity and they’ll have fun discovering the tidal flats.
The recipe I’m posting here is a favorite of mine! Here is how I like to prepare and enjoy them…..
You will need:
About 4 dozen mussels
1 Tbsp ginger (fresh is always best)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Freshly ground pepper to taste
3 red peppers or a healthy Tbsp of red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
1/4 cup of Tamari or Soy Sauce
1 generous cup of Sake
1 loaf of your favorite Artisan baguette (the crustier the better) for dipping into the broth
This is how I do it:
1. Make the broth ahead by combining all of the ingredients EXCEPT the mussels and bread, of course!
2. Bring your broth to a boil and simmer for about ten or so minutes to create a delightful aroma which wafts nicely about the house while you continue to prepare the mussels. Turn off and let the broth rest.
3. Rinse and clean your mussels, scrubbing off any limpets, sand and scraping off any barnacles. I’ve read about “de-bearding” them, but I simply trim some off if there is a lot. I find that they actually add a nice little bit of flavor to the broth.
4. When you are ready to enjoy your mussels, bring the broth back to a boil and put your freshly cleaned mussels in.
5. Steam your mussels in the boiling broth just until they open!
6. Serve in bowls with the crusty Artisan bread on the side for dipping.
The weather is still cool enough that a hot bowl of broth, bread and mussels is a wonderful way to warm up! You can warm your bread in the oven and enjoy it buttered if you are so inclined. It’s a great dish to enjoy!