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Mussels, Three Ways
by Charlie Burke

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Mussels have a lot going for them: they are inexpensive, versatile, flavorful and
easy to prepare. Additionally, by buying Maine cultivated mussels you are
supporting the revitalization of Maine’s fishing ports which have declined with
the loss of the herring fishery which supplied sardine factories and was a
major employer down the coast of Maine. A simple Google search lists Maine’s
mussel farms and the following site details Lubec’s efforts to revive its port
through aquaculture:

If your fish market is selling  imported mussels, ask them why they do not
carry New England farmed shellfish. Price should not be an issue because
mussels are among the least expensive seafood.

Farm raised mussels are clean because they are raised on ropes and usually do
not come in contact with the ocean bottom. When fresh, they should smell of the
sea with no strong odor. Live mussels are closed; if a mussel stays open when
tapped discard it. Simply wash mussels in cold water and pull of the beard
(dark, fibrous material which the mussel uses to stay attached to the rope). I
find most cultured mussels have little or no beard. Once washed, mussels are
ready to cook; they do not require soaking as required by steamers and other

Preparation is quick and easy and begins with steaming in a small amount of
liquid. The variation of the liquid results in very different dishes. Feel free to
use your own ideas, making these preparations your own. The cooking time
remains the same; serve them as a first course or increase the amount of
mussels for a low calorie, healthy main course when served with a salad. If you
use wine in preparation, serve the same wine with the meal (a dry Sauvignon
blanc goes well).

Classic steamed mussels, four main courses:

4 pounds mussels, washed
¾ cup white wine or water
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic or 1 medium onion
½ cup chopped celery, including leaves (optional)
1 teaspoon whole pepper corns or 1 teaspoon red pepper
flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a heavy bottomed pot large enough to easily hold the mussels, heat the oil
over high heat. Add chopped ingredients and stir briefly until aromatic (careful
not to burn garlic). After a few seconds, add the mussels and wine. Cover pot
tightly and cook, shaking the pot occasionally for 5 minutes or until all the
mussels are open. Discard any that are unopened. Divide mussels among four
bowls, pour the liquid into the bowls and serve immediately with bread to
soak up the juices. The mussels add a fair amount of very flavorful liquid to the
pot. If you wish, you can add a tablespoon of butter to the liquid.

Portuguese Steamed Mussels:

4 pounds mussels, washed
½ pound linguica (Portuguese sausage), thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green or red pepper, chopped
2 cups chopped canned tomatoes, preferably home canned
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup dry white wine
¼ cup olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

In a large heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and add garlic, onion,
pepper and linguica, stirring until vegetables are soft and aromatic. Add
tomatoes and wine, turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Add mussels, cover
and steam for 5 minutes or until mussels are open. Toss with parsley and
ground pepper, divide among 4 bowls and serve immediately.
Served with a green salad and crusty bread, this makes
a great meal for four.

Broiled mussel appetizer for four:

A simple, make - ahead appetizer or first course. Vary the topping as you wish,
adding your favorite herbs or crisped bacon, even chopped linguica. The
mussel broth is not used, so freeze it for use as a fish soup base.

2 pounds mussels, washed and prepared using the steamed mussel recipe
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
Olive oil or butter sufficient to moisten bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped or 2
teaspoon dried oregano
Dijon mustard to taste
Cayenne to taste (optional)

Prepare mussels as above, but remove them as they open so that they are
barely cooked. When cool enough to handle, remove top shells and discard.
(mussel and clam shells add micronutrients to your compost pile).

Place mussels into shallow individual oven proof casseroles or into a single
larger one. Mix bread crumbs with other ingredients, adding more oil or butter
if crumbs are dry. Place crumb mixture over mussels. This can prepared to this
step a day ahead, covered and refrigerated.

To finish, place under preheated broiler until hot and crumbs are brown (only a
few minutes, so watch closely) Serve with lemon wedges.  

Once you prepare mussels this way, experiment with other herbs and
ingredients. It’s fun to develop your own recipes for enjoying this under
utilized, locally grown product, and at the same time you will be supporting
the hard working growers of Maine mussels.

About the author
An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of
the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association ( and helps
run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows
certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton,
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