My wife and I celebrated Labor Day with a trip to Anthony’s at Point Defiance. We ordered mussels as an appetizer. If you have never tried mussels, you should. Besides being tasty, they are good for you since they contain omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B-12.
Fisherman and author Paul Greenberg once told NPR, “Because things like beef really are a tremendous burden on the planet in terms of resources, we’re never going to get to the place where everybody on the planet can eat beef. But I do think we’ll get to a place where everybody can eat mussels.”
Most restaurants that feature mussels serve them as an appetizer because they cook quickly, and they look impressive with their shells usually piled high and sticking out well above the rims of the bowls. Crusty French bread is usually served with mussels. If not then request the bread. Once the pile of mussels is reduced, you’ll find a wine broth waiting for you to dip your bread into.
The broth usually contains sautéed onions, garlic and thyme. A good white wine or lemon juice and chicken broth and sometimes red pepper flakes join the mix. Cleaned mussels are added, the pot is covered and cooked on medium-high for about 5 minutes until the mussels open. I’ve eaten at two restaurants in the Tacoma area where mussels or steamed clams were served with broken shells. That’s usually a sign that the mussels or clams were dead before cooking and possibly that the chef or cook didn’t know how to prepare them. Steamed mussels and clams are always served fresh. Eating the meat of dead mussels or clams means running the risk of microorganism contamination, food poisoning, infectious disease and other possible health problems.
Cleaning mussels and clams means scrubbing off debris like seaweed, sand, barnacles, or mud spots from the shells.
Here in the Pacific Northwest we are blessed with fantastic seafood, fresh water fish, and shellfish. Most farm-raised trout comes from Idaho and Penn Cove mussels come from the largest mussel farm in the world. Penn Cove is located on the northern end of Whidbey Island. Penn Cove Shellfish LLC says, “Since 1975, it has been our mission to be the premier provider of the finest sustainable farmed shellfish products in today’s marketplace. Always fresh from the waters of Penn Cove, we grow, wet store, and distribute Penn Cove Mussels, Mediterranean Mussels, Manila clams and 27 varieties of Pacific Oysters. We only harvest AFTER your order is placed (they sell to distributors and also have canned product), ensuring you the absolute freshest Mussels, Oysters and Clams available Anywhere!”
Peak season for fresh mussels is October to March. You can buy chilled mussels in their shells year-round, Shelled versions come frozen, smoked and bottled in brine or vinegar. My three favorite smoked snacks are scallops, oysters, and mussels.
Seeing mussels being served and people eating the meat out of the shells at restaurants can seem intimidating, but it’s not that hard. Some people treat mussels like raw oysters. They suck the meat out of the shell along with the juice. I prefer to hold the shell in one hand, and then using a seafood fork spearing the mussel and pulling it out of the shell. You can then either put it directly into your mouth or dip it in the broth and then plop it into your mouth. Not all restaurants have a seafood fork, but you can use a salad fork or even just a dinner fork. A bowl is usually provided for the empty shells. You need to get them out of the way.
Once you get down to just broth, make sure you fish out any mussels that may have fallen from the shells. The broth itself you can eat like soup or simply throw caution to the wind and either dunk your bread or place your bread on a plate and spoon the broth over it.
Mussels can also be sautéed in the shell or out of the shell. They can be used as sushi, as appetizers, and included in dishes like seafood fettuccine and fish stews like bouillabaisse.
Originally bouillabaisse was a stew made by Marseilles fishermen using the left-over catch they couldn’t sell to restaurants or markets. Traditional bouillabaisse typically uses three kinds of fish including eel along with shellfish and other seafood like sea urchins, mussels, octopus, and crab. Vegetables such as leeks, garlic, onions, tomatoes, celery, turnips, carrots, turnips, and potatoes are simmered together with the broth. Here along the Puget Sound, steelhead, mussels, and crab and any veggies from the Puyallup Valley could combine for a fantastic one pot fall or winter bouillabaisse style-stew.
We are entering the peak season for mussels so tune up your seafood fork and get ready for home cooked delights or visit restaurants like Anthony’s, the Lobster Shop, or the Fish Peddler in Tacoma or Pho PQ in Lakewood. Enjoy mussels, broth and good bread.. Enjoy mussels, broth and good bread.