When I was in 3rd grade my family moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Portland, Maine (talk about a change of scenery). Insert my love obsession with the ocean.
I would spend hours upon hours searching through tide pools to find the perfect sea urchin or seashell. My love for the ocean grew so much while living in Maine. The smell, the sound, the calming influence it has when you take a nice long walk with the water running through your feet.
Maine is so many things including beautiful, peaceful, far away (from relatives at least), cold in the winter, packed full of incredible seafood, fall foliage like you have never seen. While we only lived there for about three years and I was young, it shaped my interests, likes, and dislikes (seafood).
We lived in Maine, full of fresh fish and me, a silly little 3rd grader, wouldn’t try any of it. Not one bite. Lobster on my table, in front of me and I wouldn’t eat any of it. Can I please go back and have some words with my younger self? The house we lived in was near a fresh fish market. My sisters and I would go in with my Mom every week and then go running out because we couldn’t stand the smell. Somehow I figured since I didn’t like the smell, I sure wouldn’t like the taste.
Fast forward to college when I traveled to Barcelona my freshman year. I was more adventurous at this point in my life and gave seafood a try. I realized what I had been missing and have been making up for it ever since. Salmon makes an appearance on our dinner table almost weekly and mussels are one of my favorite things to order as an appetizer at a restaurant or make at home for dinner.
While I regret not eating fish as a child (when I had the opportunity to eat the freshest stuff out there) I am glad I finally gave it a try and realized what I was missing out on. If I have learned anything from my time in Maine it is to take changes, try new foods or recipes, do something that takes you out of your comfort zone..you never know what you might discover.
My local Marianos grocery store sells Maine Mussels in 2 lb portions for $4.88 (2 lbs is a lot-it makes enough for 4 people to eat as an appetizer or two to share as an entree). That is cheap compared to other shellfish like crab, lobster or clams.
How to Buy & Prepare Mussels:
1) When you buy mussels make sure you leave the bag open –they are alive and need to be able to breathe.
2) Store them in the refrigerator in their vented bag until you are ready to make them. Mussels should be made the same day you buy them.
3) When you are ready to make the mussels soak them in a large bowl of cold water for about 20 minutes to get rid of any sand and grit. Make sure to drain the water out.
4) Grab another bowl and begin to de-beard the mussels. To do this you will pull the little bristly material sticking out of one side of the mussel (see below) by pulling down toward the hinge of the shell and out. Use a towel to hold the mussel as they hold onto their beards tightly and they can be hard to pull out.
5) Reasons to throw out mussels:
1) If a mussel is slightly open tap it with a knife to see if it closes. If it does not close then it is dead.
2) A mussel seems very heavy for its size, then it is probably filled with mud.
3) Cracked shell or hole in in shell.
Here is a good picture tutorial if you are still confused: Cleaning Mussels.
Now that you are ready to make mussels here is what you do: take the mussels that are alive and set them aside. Using a dutch oven or pot heat the olive oil over medium heat and add onion and garlic. Sauté until translucent.
Add in the can of diced tomatoes, white wine (or red wine, chicken broth or beer) and the Spanish smoked paprika and let boil for 2 minutes. Put the mussels in the pot or dutch oven, cover with a lid and continue to boil for 5-8 minutes (until most mussels are open).
Check the mussels at 5 minutes to see if they are all open. As soon as most of the mussels are open turn off the heat and portion into bowls with crusty bread and a clean bowl for the shells. Throw out any mussels that are not open.
- 2 lbs. fresh mussels
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 cup white wine (or red, chicken broth or beer)
- 1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes with liquid
- 2 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika (or just paprika)
- Crusty bread to soak it all up
- Soak mussels for 20 minutes in cold water to get grit out.
- Drain and pick through your mussels and discard any that are broken, shells are cracked or have a hole and any that don't open when tapped (they should be open meaning they are alive).
- Take the mussels that are alive and set them aside.
- Using a dutch oven or pot heat the olive oil over medium heat and add onion and garlic. Sauté until translucent.
- Add in the can of diced tomatoes, white wine (or red wine, chicken broth or beer) and the Spanish smoked paprika and let boil for 2 minutes.
- Put the mussels in the pot or dutch oven, cover with a lid and continue to boil for 5-8 minutes. Check the mussels at 5 minutes to see if they are all open.
- As soon as most of the mussels are open turn off the heat and portion into bowls with crusty bread a clean bowl for the shells. Throw out any mussels that are not open.
If you enjoy seafood I hope you will give mussels a try!
Is there anything you love to eat now that you would not eat as a child?