If you had the chance to read my travelogue from the Prince Edward Island segment of our mad Canadian Maritimes road trip, you’ll know we ate lots of mussels while there. It did not stop in PEI. The quality of mussels in that area is phenomenal and we enjoyed them at Cape Breton and Nova Scotia too.
I’ll confess though I’m a seafood eater, my sensibilities have become more conservative since I’ve been an ‘inlander’. For some time I never thought to buy seafood at the grocery store (and probably would not for shellfish outside of Whole Foods Market to whom I’ve spoken at length about their practices and how/where they get their seafood). After living in California for years where I could buy it fresh, it seems odd to buy it inland where no ocean can be found.
That being said, the idea of ‘local’ and ‘seasonal’ have been shifted by the international logistics capabilities. I find almost any fruit and vegetable may be found year round thanks to overnight flights from temperate locations such as South America. In the case of seafood, the same applies. Good, quality seafood is sped off from its point of harvest to be waiting the next day on ice for you!
My kids really dove into the seafood on our trip too. I wasn’t sure how that would go but will say that like most things, when food is harvested at its growing point the quality is often very different. With the water quality in PEI, the flavors and textures of the shellfish was pristine in my opinion. The mussels in particular were beautifully flavored without being ‘fishy’.
Like my husband and I, the kids were on a mission to eat what was local, especially for things we might not be able to get readily once back in Colorado. One evening we arrived at a restaurant serving mussels in a Thai-inspired sauce with coconut milk, lemongrass and chilies. My daughter ordered it only to learn about 15 minutes later the last serving had been delivered and they were sold out. Such a disappointment. It seemed like a simple recipe so when arriving back in Colorado I put my attention on creating something similar. I was delighted to find PEI Mussels at my Whole Foods making it all feel serendipitous.
Mussels are a quick meal to prepare. They are steamed in a small amount of liquid for about 5-7 minutes until they all open. That’s really all there is to it. There are a few tips however to working with mussels that I’ll share here:
- Buy mussels as close to using them time-wise as possible. I bought mine the morning of the day I was making them for lunch. In our case our Whole Foods gets them the same time every morning so speaking with your shell fish source if they are flown in is wise to plan for your time needs.
- Mussels need to be kept on ice. They are live creatures so must be kept on ice until they are cooked. My fish person gave them to me in a bag of ice with instruction to leave the top of the bag open to allow them to breathe. I transferred them to an ice filled open cooler when at home until I prepared them.
- Discard any mussels with broken shells or that are semi open before cooking. The only mussels you should cook need to have shells intact and be closed tight.
- Do not eat any mussels that do not open while cooking. Discard any closed mussels after 5-7 minutes of cooking.
Here’s a trick to eating mussels without utensils! My husband lived in Maine for a few years and regales us with stories of the seafood and shellfish bounty locally. He taught us a quick trick that will have you looking like a seasoned mussel-eater!
Open the mussel shell.
Remove the half of the shell at the hinge on the side where the mussel is not attached.
Using the shell without the mussel as a scoop, run the rounded edge underneath the mussel on the other half shell to separate it from the shell.
Pop the mussel into your mouth from the shell!
The rule of thumb for planning a meal of mussels is 1 pound per person. That sounds like a lot but the volume is smaller than you'd imagine as well as the mussel is quite small compared to the shell. A large bowl brimming with mussels is probably less in quantity than a small chicken breast.
Serving this recipe with a bread for sopping up the broth is a must. It's a delicious broth that should be fully enjoyed as much as the mussels!
- 3 tablespoons Sunflower Oil
- 1 large Shallot, peeled and diced
- 5 Garlic Cloves, diced
- 1 Serrano Chile, de-stemmed, seeded and diced
- 2 short stalks Lemongrass (4-5 inches, found in the herb section of most grocery stores)
- 3/4 inch (by ½ inch) knob Fresh Ginger, peeled and diced
- 1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter
- 1 14-ounce can Unsweetened Coconut Milk
- 4 pound Mussels, rinsed well in cold water; sort out and discard any with broken shells or that are not tightly closed*
- To serve: Crusty baguette slices to sop up the broth (we used Udi’s Gluten-free Baguette which is found in the frozen section of many grocery stores)
- In a large pot with a tight fitting lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, garlic, chile, lemongrass and ginger; sauté, stirring constantly, until fragrant and the shallot becomes slightly translucent (about 3 minutes).
- Add the butter and stir while it melts. Pour in the coconut milk; stir or whisk to break up any solidified milk and to fully blend with the vegetables.
- Add the mussels, close the lid and allow to cook until the mussels have all opened; about 5 minutes. If when checking at 5 minutes some are still closed, replace the lid and cook an additional 1-2 minutes.
- Evenly distribute the cooked mussels between four large bowls discarding any which have not opened. Ladle the broth evenly into the bowls. Serve immediately with baguette slices.
*Mussels from Prince Edward Island are incredibly clean thanks to the water there and do not require any preparation step other then externally rinsing them. Mussels from other areas may required debearding or additional cleaning to ensure no silt when cooking them. When purchasing mussels consult with your fishmonger on recommendations for additional cleaning before cooking.