It won’t take long to muscle your way through a big bowl of these spicy mussels. Chances are, your bowl will be empty before you realized you started. Eating this shellfish can consume ones’ attention, especially when they are steamed in wine, garlic, and spices. No one wants to miss out of getting every drop and morsel of the flavorful broth. It is a fun and messy affair, but well worth it.
I have grown to realize people either love mussels, or refuse to eat them. In the past, clams and oysters had a better reputation, because eating mussels was considered risky behavior. Only Gods like Hercules should eat them, for they were invincible to everything. For the longest time, I was a member of that camp. They just did not appeal to me. Fortunately, I have grown-up and changed my attitude.
When I was a child, I saw mussels everywhere anchored to pillars, rocks and boats throughout the intertidal zone. I believed they were the strangest creatures around. At low tide, I would play under the docks, looking for the perfect skipping rock and other hidden treasures. I saw colonies of mussels tightly glued on pillars, like bunches of grapes ready to be picked. Purposefully, I would attempt to pull one off, and always fail. How they managed to cling so tightly to every surface along the shoreline intrigued me. Their beards were thin and stringy, and I was dumbfounded at the holding strength of the tiny fibrous strands. If someone told me back then, mussels were alien creatures from another galaxy, I would have believed them. The thought of eating these sea creatures never crossed my mind.
Several years ago, I was researching healthy foods and mussels kept showing up as a superfood. Based on my research I became more open-minded to try them. After all, how can I have an opinion on something I know nothing about? Fortunately, I did change my mind, because now I love them. Unlike clams, they are very tender and slightly sweet with lots of protein, low in fat, and tons of beneficial nutrients.
There are many ways I like to prepare mussels, and this recipe with chorizo sausage is just one in a collection. One of the best aspects of cooking with mussels, is you do not really need a recipe to create a delicious meal. Exact amounts are not necessary. Put them in a pot with a little liquid and garlic and you have an easy dinner. My recipe is a little more involved than that, but still simple to execute. I have written this recipe as a guideline for you to learn the process and hopefully inspire you.
Tips for Success Cleaning and Eating Mussels
Where to get mussels? If you are lucky enough to know a secret spot along the coast where you live, this will be your freshest option. Please only take what you need and be aware of the health of the waters you harvest in.
The most available option is to buy mussels at the store. The ones that are most common are from, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Mussels from PEI are farm raised, reliable and sustainable. They are also a great bargain with a 2 lb bag costing around $7.00. Harvesting date and best used by dates are provided on the label of each bag. Ask the fishmonger to pack them in ice, if they have not already done so.
Care and cooking: As soon as you get home, take the mussels out of the plastic bag and store loosely in a bowl covered with a kitchen towel. Put the bowl immediately in the refrigerator. No plastic wrap, and not submerged in water. If you are keeping them in the refrigerator for a couple of days, pour out any accumulated water from the bottom of the bowl.
When you are planning to cook the mussels, inspect each one and clean them. Most farm raised mussels come cleaned, but they still need a once over for stray grit and beards. Run cold water over the mussels and inspect for broken shells, grit and the beard along the straight edge of the shell. Slice off any stray beards with a sharp paring knife. Throw out any mussels with broken shells.
If a mussel shell opens, tap the top of the shell with your finger. If the shell does not close, throw it away. Store the clean mussels in the refrigerator in a bowl loosely covered with a towel until you are ready to cook them.
Spanish Inspired Mussels with Chorizo
- 2 lbs / 1k mussels
- 2 Tbs olive oil divided
- 1/2 lb / 225g chorizo sausage
- 1 shallot minced
- 6 medium size garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1-1 1/2 cups / 250 - 375ml dry white wine like sauvignon blanc
- 8 to matoes from a 28oz can of whole tomatoes or 8 fresh plum tomatoes*
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
- Small pinch of saffron
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 bay leaf
- two sprigs fresh thyme tied with kitchen string
- Finely grated zest from one lemon and juice from half a lemon
- 1 long strip of orange zest optional
- 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
- 4 oz / 125g watercress or arugula, or swiss chard, thick stems removed and rouch chopped
Before cooking, clean and inspect the mussels. Check for grit and stray beards. Discard any mussels that have broken shells and the ones that the shells remain open after tapping them with a finger. Put the cleaned mussels in a bowl loosely covered with a cloth, no plastic wrap, in the refrigerator until you are about to cook them.
Remove the casings from the sausage. Pour 1 Tbs of olive oil in a Dutch oven and turn the heat up to medium high. Add the chorizo sausage and cook, stirring often to break the sausage up. Continue to break up the chorizo while the sausage cooks to get different size pieces that resemble cooked ground beef. Remove the chorizo from the pot and reserve for later. Taste the cooked chorizo to see how spicy the sausage is so you will know how to adjust the seasoning for your broth.
Add the remaining olive oil and turn down the heat to medium. Add the minced shallots and cook, stirring occasionally so the onions don't brown. Cook the sausage until they soften and look translucent, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook until the garlic begins to release its scent, about one minute.
Pour in 1 cup / 250 ml of white wine and deglaze the pan. Allow the wine to boil down slightly for a couple of minutes. Add the bay leaf, thyme bundle, pinch of saffron, orange zest, and lemon zest.
Cut the tomatoes into irregular bite size pieces, then add the tomatoes to the pot with the wine and onions. Reserve the juices from the can to thin the broth if necessary.
Bring the tomatoes to a boil then turn down to a simmer. Simmer the tomato sauce for 15 minutes so all the flavors blend. Half way through the simmering, taste the tomato sauce and adjust the seasoning as needed. You may need a small pinch of granulated sugar, (1/2 tsp) if the tomato sauce tastes to sharp. Add more salt, paprika and red pepper flakes if more punch is needed, or based on how spicy the chorizo is.
After the tomato sauce has simmered taste for the balance of flavors. Add more wine if the sauce need to be a little thinner. The mussels will also emit their own juices so don't make the sauce thin. Add the cooked sausage and turn the heat up to medium high. Bring the sauce to a full boil then add the mussels. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened. No peeking under the lid for the first 5 minutes.
Serve immediately in bowls with crusty bread and a spoon, and lots of napkins. Mussels are best eaten the same day it is made.
If you want to cook with fresh tomatoes, cut plum tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Rough chop the tomatoes for irregular shaped pieces.
The meal can be made ahead of time up to the point of adding the mussels. Keep the tomato sauce in the pot covered in the refrigerator if you will be saving it for longer than one hour. Keep the mussels in the refrigerator up to the minute you are ready to add them into the pot to cook.
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