Mussels have long been a food source for land dwellers and marine life alike, with archaeological evidence pointing to more than 20,000 years of cultivation by humans. (Illustration by Kristy Heilenday)
These long, ovular mollusks make for some of the best shellfish dining across many cultures, and have for thousands of years. Grown worldwide — both naturally and farmed — the freshwater- or marine-based bivalves are packed with protein, vitamin B12, selenium and zinc, so what are you waiting for? Get crackin’.
Mussels have long been a food source for land dwellers and marine life alike, with archaeological evidence pointing to more than 20,000 years of cultivation by humans. Today, the saltwater variety is best for eating, with China, Spain and Canada as the mussel-harvest heavyweights (though America’s farms and northeastern and northwestern coastlines also supply a fair amount). In addition, American freshwater mussels, also cultivated for their pearls, proved a booming resource for buttons made from shells throughout much of the 19th century.
What to Buy
Multiple varieties are available throughout much of the year, but if you’re looking for local, the most flavorful Northeastern varieties can be found from August to November. All uncooked mussels should be purchased alive, having tightly closed shells without any major cracks or punctures. If a mussel is open, make sure it snaps closed with a light tap on the shell. Immediately store in the refrigerator and eat within two days of purchase.
How to Prepare
Be sure to scrub the shells and remove the beard before you begin, cleaning away all mud or sand. Steam your mussels and enjoy them with frites as the Belgians do, or add them to paella as they do in Spain. Fry, bake, sauté, roast, grill, pickle them, or add to bouillabaisse or Cantonese garlic broth, allowing them to cook as they stew. These babies are versatile.
Raspberry Cider Mussels
By Chef Augusto Lopez of Torero Tapas Bar & Grill
1 dozen live Prince Edward Island mussels
1 tablespoon of olive oil
3 ounces of rendered bacon (applewood bacon is recommended)
1 tablespoon of chopped garlic
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 ounce of Chambord liquor
3 ounces of raspberry cider beer (Angry Orchard is recommended)
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
Wash all mussels thoroughly. In a medium-sized sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add the mussels, bacon and smoked paprika in quick succession. When they reach a sizzling point, roughly 20 seconds to 1 minute later, add the chopped garlic, allowing the garlic to quickly cook, about 5 seconds. Add the Chambord and the cider (the alcohol content will evaporate quickly and transfer flavor to the mussels), followed directly by the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add the butter and let simmer until completely melted, then remove from the heat and transfer all mussels and broth to a serving bowl, accompanied by grilled bread for dipping. Enjoy!