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Steamed Mussels in Garlic-Saffron Broth
A story about a boy and a mussel...
One of the earliest culinary memories I have was of vacationing with my parents in the little beach-town of Cambria, CA. Our vacation house was right on the beach, and every morning I would wait for the low-tide so I could go exploring all the really cool tide pools. I always found all sorts of sea life; starfish, sea urchins, even abalone every now and then, but one morning I stumbled upon what would from then on out be referred to as "Mussel Rock." Mussel Rock was only accessable during the lowest of low tides, and was literally covered with beautiful pacific black mussels. I found them interesting at the time, though I really had no idea that they could be eaten until I took a couple to show my Dad. He asked if there were more, and if so, how many, and I said that there were tons! He asked me to go get about ten of the biggest ones I could find so I grabbed my beach-combing bucket and my pocket-knife and went back to mussel rock. When I got back to the house about twenty minutes later, my Dad was in the kitchen chopping some garlic. He had a pan already set up to cook and then showed me how to clean the mussels. I asked him what we were going to do with them, and he said "We're going to eat them for breakfast." Intrigued that you could even eat those things, I decided to watch and learn. After they were cleaned, Dad sauteed them with some garlic, white wine and butter. I watched in amazement as one by one, they started to open. When they were cooked, my Dad offered me one and I apprehensively popped it into my mouth thinking it was going to be disgusting (hey... gotta try everything once, right?). Instead of being grossed out, my tastebuds were hit with what I can only describe as what the flavor of the ocean might be with butter. It reminded me of eating garlic bread-sticks while being sprayed in the face with a crashing wave. It was incredible and dad and I sat there that morning and ate the whole batch while watching the tide roll in. Every summer after that, I would make the early morning trip out to mussel rock almost every day to catch breakfast, and it became a family tradition. Unfortunately, Cambria is now a protected beach and taking ANY wildlife from the ocean is considered poaching and punishable by severe fines. I respect the new rules, but I miss the days when I could crawl out onto a wet rock and grab the most delicious breakfast of my youth. I would say that those mussels with my Dad were the spark that got me interested in food and cooking. That one little shellfish changed me for life...
- 1 lb Live Greenlip or Pacific Mussels
- 1/2 cup White Wine
- 1 cup Chicken or Vegetable Stock
- 6 Cloves Minced Garlic
- 1/4 cup Finely Diced White Onion or Shallots
- 1/4 cup Chopped Green Onion or Leeks
- 2 tbsp. Fresh Basil
- 1 tsp. Saffron Threads (appr. 30 threads)
- 1/2 tsp. Celery Salt
- Step 1) Cleaning Mussels - Fresh mussels usually have what's called a "beard" that will need to be removed before cooking. The beard is basically the fibrous inedible calcium threads on the outside of the mussel's shell that adheres it to a rock. These calcium threads can end up in your sauce and have a bitter chalky taste. Use a paring or oyster knife to pry the beards off, then scrub what's left with a toothbrush.
- Step 2) Chuck the dead ones - Go through your batch of mussels and throw out any of them that have cracked shells or won't close when you tap them. Live mussels will close up when you tap their shells but the dead ones won't. Dead mussels are likely to carry bacteria and toxins that will make you sick, and can lend an off-flavor to your broth.
- Step 3) Saute the Onion and Garlic - In a large sauce pan, saute together the white onion and garlic until the onion turns translucent.
- Step 4) Deglaze with White Wine - Add the white wine to the pan and continue cooking until reduced by half.
- Step 5) Add the Mussels - Add your cleaned live mussels, the chicken or vegetable stock, the green onion or leeks, basil, saffron and celery salt. Bring to a simmer and cover.
- Step 6) Cook until Mussels Open - Usually about 3 to 5 minutes. When all or most of the mussels are open, they're done. Throw out the ones that didn't open (because they're bad) and serve immediately!