Mussels are found in all the oceans of the world and have been a favorite seafood of many peoples for centuries, but it is only recently that they have become popular in the United States.
An interest in ecology and in eating less meat and more seafood is probably responsible for the attraction to this excellent shellfish, long underutilized despite being plentiful and easily cultivated on both American seacoasts.
Although live mussels in the shell are available in some fish markets today, it is sometimes difficult to find them in many areas. Excellent frozen mussel meat, available in some supermarkets, are usually imported, probably from Korea where there is an active and sophisticated mussel farming industry.
The industry is growing in the United States however, especially in New England where the increasing cultivation of high quality shelfish indicates that availabity will soon be no problem.
A member of the clam family, the mussel is somewhat similar to the soft-shell clam, but the meat is tender and there is no neck muscle to remove. Mussels can be substituted in recipes calling for clams or oysters, and there are recipes from many great cuisines ready for the American cook.
"There is no great secret to cooking mussels," says Mel Pell, a representative of Great Eastern Mussel Farms of Newcastle, Maine. There is practically no preparation before cooking or before serving on the half shell," he said.
Great Eastern Mussel Farms specializes in selling cultivated seafood products such as mussels, oysters, rainbow and brook trout, sea urchins, Maine sea scallops, and Maine lobsters. The cultivated mussels will be available in quantity by October 1980 and the current production is completely presold.
"In the meantime we are selling the highest quality wild mussels found in Maine waters. They are from deep beds where the incidence of pearls is low and meat content is high," Mel said. "It may sound exciting to think of finding a pearl but biting on a small stone is not very pleasant, and is to be avoided, of course."
The company sells two kinds of oysters, the American marsh river oyster, and the Belon oyster, a European oyster prized all over the world for its distinctive tangy flavor.
"Mussels are probably the most economical shellfish on the market, providing over three times more meat yield per pound than clams and one of the best buys anywhere," Mel says.
The entire meat of the mussel is edible except for the byssus thread, an easily seen clump of black threadlike material attached to the shell outside which can be pulled either before or after cooking.
Like other shellfish, fresh mussels are a perishable product and should be used as soon as possible after purchasing. Always be sure the shells of live mussels are tightly closed. Discard any with open shells.
For longest shelf life, keep mussels cool at 40 degrees F. Do not keep airtight or in water.
Be sure to allow 18 to 24 mussels per person if small and a dozen if large.
Individual size and weight of mussels vary, especially at different times of year, so here is a helpful chart of approximations using an average length of 2 3/4 inches.
1 bushel fresh mussels weighs 60 pounds.
1 bushel fresh mussels contains 1,000 mussels.
1 quart fresh mussels contains 25 mussels.
3 pounds fresh mussels when steamed will produce 1 pound mussel meat.
1 quart fresh mussels when steamed yields about 1/2 pound.
1 cup steamed mussel meat weighs 1/2 pound.
1 cup drained mussel meat contains about 25 meats.
Here is a delicious mussel recipe using risotto, which is an Italian way of cooking rice slowly while adding liquid gradually. Risotto is a familiar first course in northern Italy. Mussels Risotto 2 pounds (about 2 dozen) fresh mussels 3 cups water 6 tablespoons (1 stick) butter 1 shallot, finely chopped 1 small union, finely chopped 1 clove garlic, crushed 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads 2 tablespoon boiling water 1 cup rice 3 cups mussel broth 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated 3 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
Scrub mussels and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Drain in a colander and be sure all beards or byssus have been removed. Place in a large pan with 3 cups water and bring to a boil covered.
Over high heat hold both handle and cover and shake the pot briskly to redistribure the mussels. Cook over high heat for a few minutes until all shells have opened. Lift from liquid with slotted spoon and set aside.
Drain liquid through a cheesecloth, reserving liquid. Discard any mussels with unopened shells. Remove mussels from shells.
To prepare risotto melt butter in a heavy casserole and add shallot, union, and garlic and cook until soft. Add saffron to boiling water and stir dissolved , then add with rice to butter mixture and cook over medium heat 2 minutes.
Add 1 cup mussel broth, increase heat so liquid comes just to the boil, then lower heat quickly and cook rice in broth, leaving cover off and stirring occasionally. Cook for about 7 minutes or until rice has absorbed broth.
Add broth in two more portions, letting all the second portion become absorbed by rice, but not all of the third amount. Add mussels during last 5 minutes of cooking. Stir rice over heat. Total cooking time is 20 minutes. The rice should be al dente and there should still be some liquid in the pot. Also you will have some mussel liquid left over.
Stir in the Parmesan cheese and taste for seasoning. The mussel broth and cheese should give the dish enough saltiness, and it is best unpeppered.
Pile risotto into a warm serving dish and sprinkle with parsley. Serve at once. Serves 4 as appetizer. Great Eastern's Steamed Mussels
Scrub mussels well and rinse in cold water. Be sure byssus threads have been removed. This is the threadlike beard which will come off with a sharp yank away from the mussel hinge.
Don't steam too many mussels at once.
Each pan should be no more than 8 inches deep with mussels.For larger amounts use an additional pan. Add a half cup of water for each 2 quarts of mussels.
Cover pot and steam 5 to 7 minutes at high heat, until shells open wide and meats look firm. Some will loosen from the shells. continue steaming if you prefer tougher meats. When steamed to your taste, remove from the pot and serve plain or with your favorite butter, garlic, or lemon sauce.
The cloudy broth in the kettle is delicious.
Strain it through several layers of cheesecloth or paper coffee filters to remove sand or sediment.
Stuffed Mussels are one of the traditional appetizers, or meza, in Armenian cuisine. Although some of the old recipes suggest filling the shells and tying them with a string, here is an easier recipe that Mel Pell has developed and which is delicious. Midye Dolmasi (Stuffed Mussels) 24 mussels 1/4 cup olive oil 1 large onion, minced 1/2 cup rice 1 cup chicken broth 2 tablespoons pine nuts 2 tablespoons currants 2 tablespoons chopped parsley Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Steam mussels until they open in 1/2 cup water, and 1 tablespoon olive oil, covered, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cool, discard any that did not open , and strain broth. Remove and discard 1 shell from each mussel.
Heat remaining oil and saute onion until soft. Add rice and cook 3 to 5 minutes. Add chicken broth, reserved mussel broth, and remaining ingredients. Stir, cover, and simmer 15 minutes or until rice is tender but firm.
Pack rice mixture over mussels in shells and chill. Some people like to chop the mussel meat and mix the rice mixture, but i prefer adding rice over the mussel in its half shell. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and garnish with lemon wedges. Serves 4 to 6.