In my opinion, fresh Mussels offer up a complete sensory food experience. For a start they look really cool in their elegant, black, shiny shells. Then there’s a slightly rhythmic sound when they are being gently shaken in the pan and poured into a large bowl and then you get to breathe in that amazing sea-fresh aroma before extracting the succulent mussels from their shells and enjoying all their wonderful, gutsy flavour. If that wasn’t enough, the best is still to come. After cooking you are left with an intensely rich, tantalizing cooking liquid that offers up the most incredible taste sensation and as you soak up the delicious, fragrant broth with pieces of crusty bread, you come to the realization that nothing else tastes quite the same.
Often regarded as poor man’s shellfish, mussels are cheap, plentiful and entirely sustainable. Archaeological findings even suggest that mussels have been used as a food for over 20,000 years and they are also a good source of vitamin B12, zinc, folic acid and omega 3.
Spanish Mussels, along with clams, appear in just about every seafood dish you care to imagine from the ubiquitous Paella to the various fish soups, stews and calderetas all along Spain’s vast coastline.
In the sheltered bays of the Spanish Atlantic coast, mussels are commercially grown hanging from ropes attached to stakes in mussel farms. The constant exchange of water through the ebb and flow of the tide encourages the build-up of plankton, the mussels’ main food. Today there are over 3,000 firmly anchored floats along the coast of Galicia alone, from which the mussel-covered ropes are suspended. The ropes, which can weigh over 250 pounds, are hauled into boats and stripped of their harvest.
Because mussels tend to live in shallow sandy waters, they tend to take grit and other particles into their shell when they feed. When placed in a bucket of cold salted water with a sprinkling of oatmeal or flour, the shellfish will feed on the oatmeal and excrete the dirt. Wash the shells thoroughly, using a scrubbing brush to remove any barnacles and remove their “beards,“ the hairy looking filaments that adhere their shells to the rocks. Discard any that are not tightly closed or have broken shells. Give them a little tap on the tabletop to see if they close.
Spanish-Style Mussels with Olives, chorizo and sherry
All Spanish flavours seem to marry well with mussels. This one of my favourite recipes and it never lets me down when I’m looking for a simple, delicious supper dish with family & friends.
1.2kl Fresh Mussels, de-bearded and cleaned
4 Garlic cloves, crushed
3 Tomatoes, peeled and diced
50g raw chorizo, diced
1 Onion, finely chopped
24 Green Olives (manzanillas), finely chopped
½ red pepper, finely chopped
150ml dry Sherry (fino)
2tbsp Fresh Parsley, finely chopped
2tbsp Olive Oil
Juice of one lemon
Heat the olive oil over a gentle flame. Add the onion, chorizo, red pepper and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until they start to soften. Add the clean mussels, stirring so they are evenly coated in the vegetable-chorizo mixture. Add the sherry, cover with a lid and steam until the Mussels just begin to open (about 4-5 minutes). Add the green olives, chopped tomatoes, lemon juice and parsley. Cover with the lid and cook for a further minute. Bring the saucepan to the table, remove the lid and serve immediately.
Baked mussels with tomato, Parmesan & basil
1kl fresh mussels
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
200ml dry white wine
Juice of ½ a lemon
Pinch of “Flor de sal”
200ml fresh tomato sauce
50g grated Parmesan cheese
50g white breadcrumbs
10 basil leaves, torn
2tbsp parsley, finely chopped
lean the mussels well in cold water, removing their beards and scraping away any barnacles that have stuck to the shell. Discard any that do not close.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Sweat the chopped onions and garlic cloves over a gentle flame until they start to soften. Add the paprika, lemon juice, dry white wine, and the clean mussels. Cover the saucepan with a lid and cook gently until for about 5-6 minutes and all the mussels have opened. Discard any that remain closed.
Remove from the heat and strain the liquid into a clean saucepan. When cool enough to handle, extract the mussels from their shells and discard half of the mussel’s shells. Place the remaining shells on a baking sheet.
Bring the mussel stock to the boil and add the fresh tomato sauce. Reduce the heat and cook for a further 3-4 minutes to thicken the sauce, then stir in the basil, chopped parsley and cooked mussels.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
Spoon the mussels back into their empty shells, sprinkle over the parmesan, breadcrumbs and bake for 4-5 minutes, or until golden-brown and bubbling on top. Serve with crusty white bread.
FRESH MUSSEL “ESCABECHE”
l1kl fresh mussels, cleaned
For the Escabeche:
250 ml olive oil
125 ml sherry vinegar
100ml dry white wine
5 black peppercorns (crushed)
1 small onion (sliced finely into rings)
4 garlic cloves (crushed)
2 bay leaves
Place all the ingredients for the Escabeche in a clean heavy-bottomed saucepan and set over a gentle flame. Cook slowly for 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and blanch the mussels in batches until they open. Remove the mussels from their shells and add them to the “Escabeche”. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.
Place in the refrigerator and marinate for at least 24 hours. Serve with olives and salad leaves.