There are memories of sea things that will always remind me what a magical time & place summer is at the ocean… Being pulled away from Lost in Space on the TV and braving the torrential rain at the Desoto Beach Hotel restaurant to dine on Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks; Chowing down with the family after getting suitably roasted on the beach at Captain Anderson’s in Panama City as a kid (complete with my very own captain’s hat); Sweltering night at open pit Oyster roasts on the banks of Wilmington Island; gorging myself on steamed clams under the Thunderbolt bridge at Desposito’s; buying (and single-handedly devouring) an entire brown paper grocery sack of seasoned blue crabs from Keith’s (or “Keet’s”.. as the locals pronounced it) Crab Shack in the somewhat shady area of Savannah…. and any one of the 200 times that I had a big pot of steamed mussels with a cold brew, plucking them out of the shells and watching the sun ripple and drift slowly below the horizon.
Summer… Sand… Seafood – there just isn’t anything better for this guy.
Just so you know, anybody’s pot of steamed mussels is good. That taste of the sea, salty ~ garlicky ~ buttery ~ broth, and something to sop it all up with after, you really don’t need anything much more involved than that. But, I’ll be honest – I do love Ina Garten’s “Saffron Broth Mussels” – there’s just something about rich, aromatic saffron and mussels that is impossible to pass up.
At the market this week, Jane and I both spied the little net bags of mussels at about the time. We looked at each other and said, “Steamed Mussels!” so in the cart they went. By the time I reached checkout, I remembered a dozen tiny, tiny ears of Sunglow Corn harvested from the garden and some baby portabellas – which I thought should plush out the pot nicely so that we could make a meal out of one pot of shells.
Mussels with Saffron & Wineadapted from “Barefoot in Paris”, Ina Garten – 2004
1 – 1 Pound Bag Black Mussels
2 Tablespoons AP Flour
1 Quart Water
1/2 Cup Chopped Parsley
2 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Clove Garlic – Minced
1 1/2 Cups Dry White Wine
12 (ish) Threads of Saffron
2 Stems Fresh Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon each Kosher Salt and Cracked Black Pepper
1 Whole Scallion – Sliced into Thin Rings
1 Medium Tomato – Peeled & Seeded – Diced
12 Whole Mushrooms – Wiped and Trimmed (Any button type mushroom will work. I personally like using portabella only because they are uber firm and will hold up well in the steam)
4 Ears of Mini Corn – Quartered (If you don’t have access to small ears, then use 2 ears of a “less” sweet regular variety and cut into 2″ sections)
Tools of the Trade:
Sharp Knife and Cutting Board
5 Quart Dutch Oven with Lid
Several Small Bowls for Prep
Large Slotted Spoon
First things first – dealing with fresh mussels, you’ve got a bit of general prep work to do. Initially when you open the bag, check each and every little monster for cracked or broken shells – Throw those away immediately. Next, Rap any mussels that are part-way opened on the counter top lightly – if they close the gap, they’re fine. If they stay open – Throw those away immediately as well. (It may seem like a bit of a waste – but typically there are only one or two that fall into this category.)
Next, you’re going to want to de-beard them. With the edge of a sharp pairing knife, grab the mass of black hairy fibers that appear on the rear edge of the shell and rip them off. These are the filaments that attach the mussel to the rocks (or growing medium if they are farmed). The beards are inedible and need to be removed.
Next, fill a large bowl with a quart of cold water and add the AP flour – mixing well to dissolve the flour completely in the water. Add your prepared mussels and let them sit in the water for at least 30 minutes. The water/flour mixture causes the mussels to spit and expel any grit that they may still have inside.
Rinse your mussels and set aside.
While your shells are soaking, prep all your other ingredients. Add the saffron threads to the white wine and allow it to bloom for 20 minutes or so. Unlike a lot of spices, saffron is water soluble, and needs the moisture in the wine to release all it’s delicious yellow goodness. In the Dutch oven, heat the butter and oil until sizzling and add the garlic; saute for 5 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant.
Add the thyme sprigs and mushrooms and saute for another 5 minutes, then add in the onions and tomato.
Pour in the wine / saffron mixture, add the salt and pepper and bring to a boil
Add in the mussels, corn, and parsley and bring back to a boil
Reduce to medium low, cover and steam for 8 to 10 minutes (or, until all the mussels have just opened)
With a slotted spoon, lift out all the goods, checking a final time for any unopened mussels (throw those away as well) and transfer to a serving dish
Pour up the broth into individual serving bowls for each person for dipping and dunking big, hearty chunks of bread into.