One of my favorite things in the world is so, so simple. Mussels steamed with a bit of wine and garlic and a good hunk of crusty bread for dunking in the juices. Nothing says summer to me more. Best enjoyed with the taste of salt air still on your lips from a day at the ocean, but good any time really. With the warmer days we've been having, I was craving this deeply.
Ina Garten has a great tip for cleaning them that I had never heard before: Soak them in a large bowl of water — about 2 quarts — with 1/3 cup of flour added. As they soak, the mussels breath, filtering water and releasing sand. (When you get your mussels home, make sure none are open, chipped or broken. If they are, chuck 'em thrown out.) Soak the mussels for about 30 minutes. Remove the mussels by scooping them out of the water, rather than draining them so that the sand doesn't run back over and into them.
Drain them, then remove the "beard," or tassels sticking out one side of the shell. Using a dry towel, grasp the beard and give a sharp yank out and toward the hinge end of the mussel. This method will not kill the mussel. If you pull the beard out towards the opening end of the mussel you may tear the mussel on the inside of the shell, killing it. If they're dirty, scrub the mussels with a brush under running water.
If you're wondering how many to buy, I would recommend a half pound per person as an appetizer and a pound per person as a main course.
Mussels with White Wine
Adapted from Ina Garten
3 pounds cultivated mussels
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup chopped shallots (5 to 7 shallots)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup good white wine
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a large, deep pot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, or until the shallots are translucent. Add parsley, thyme, wine, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil.
Add the mussels, stir well, then cover the pot, and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until all the mussels are opened (discard any that do not open). With the lid on, shake the pot once or twice to be sure the mussels don't burn on the bottom. Pour the mussels and the sauce into a large bowl and serve hot.
Be sure to have plenty of bread on hand — it's my favorite part!