Seafood Recipes

WFD: Steamed Mussels, Baguette with Olive Tapenade

February 27, 2008

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OK. I know I keep saying this, but… BLOODY HELL. I really missed simple steamed mussels with shallots, white wine and thyme. Before Danika was preggers with Drake we would eat steamed mussels at least once a week. For some reason (it was logical then..) Danika stopped eating them when she was carrying Drake. Well, 9 months later we somewhat forgot about them. Drake is now 14 months old, and we have really just started to eat them again.

Blimey, did we miss them. And who wouldn’t? These little darlings are comfort food at its finest. Dead simple to cook, takes no time, and involves seafood, wine and butter. What is there not to love? Pair this with a great crusty French bread, and some awesome home made olive tapenade, and you have a diamond of an evening.

Enough mussels for the two of us (and we are hounds for them) cost me $5. Five bucks people! Someone, somewhere is crazy. How can something so amazingly good be so cheap? But sssshh, we will keep it quiet. Lets not go stirring up trouble (and prices!).

These chaps are from Penn Cove, right here in lovely Washington State. I have eaten my fair share of mussels, and honestly can say that these are my favorite. I guess there is something about the Cove being just perfect conditions for mussels. Works for me.

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When you buy mussels you have to make sure they are super fresh. Go to a really good fishmonger. I have had mussels from Whole Foods that were complete and utter crap. They tasted horrible. The bloke behind the counter said they were really fresh, they really weren’t. When you go into a fishmongers look at how they are kept. They should be well mixed into ice. If they are just dumped onto the ice, that is no good. They will start to open up and die. Take a look… If they look open, don’t buy em. They aren’t kept right, and will die pretty soon. If you are in Seattle, go to Mutual Fish. I know I keep harping on about these people, but that is for a reason (no they don’t give me free fish), their stuff is brilliant.

Right.. back to the dish. So this is really a classic French presentation of mussels. They are steamed open in a mixture of shallots, thyme and white wine, then once they are opened a small amount of butter is added, along with some chopped fresh parsley. Super simple, and really good. I have had mussels cooked hundreds of ways, and this is by far my favorite. Don’t get me started on curried mussels.. talk about a waste of a good bivalve.

And what to serve with them. Just a bowl of mussels isn’t really that filling. Bread works rather well alongside the mussels. It is filling, and can be used to soak up all the amazing liquid that the mussels are in. Here I have also whipped together a great olive tapenade to have with some bread. To me olive tapenade works great with a lot of seafood.

A NOTE ON STORING MUSSELS: When you get them back from the fishmongers, take them out of their bag, put them in a bowl, and put them in the fridge. If you don’t take them out of the bag you brought them home in, they will most likely suffocate, and that just ain’t right. Plan to cook your mussels the same day you buy them.

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Steamed Mussels, Baguette with Olive Tapenade

50 or so mussels

1/2 a long baguette

2 glasses of white wine

6 sprigs of thyme – leaves removed and coarsely chopped

1 handful of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1 small knob of butter

2 small shallots, sliced

1 large handful of either kalamata or nicoise olives

1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons of capers

olive oil

Start by cleaning the mussels. This is the most time consuming bit. Take a mussel and first examine it. If the shell is cracked, or the shell is open and will not shut when you tap it, discard it. If it is good, use a scratch pad or a small brush to clean the shell. Make sure you remove all the gunk from them. Check the underside join of the shell – there might be a “beard” there. This is what the mussel uses to grasp onto surfaces. Hold the beard tight, and with a sharp pull, pull it away from the shell hinge. It should come free. If it doesn’t pull it back towards the joint, pulling outwards at the same time. Discard the beards. Do this for all mussels. Run cold water over them (put them in a sieve), and put them back in the fridge until we need them.

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To make the tapenade, finely chop the olives. You can use a food processor, but I like to chop them by knife, it seems more interactive. Put these in a bowl, and add half the parsley. Add in the dijon mustard. Mix with a fork. Slowly add olive oil until you get a paste like consistency – that is chunky because of the olives. Season with salt and pepper, and mix again.

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In a large pan (that you have a lid for), heat a little olive oil. Toss in the sliced shallots and thyme, and cook gently until softened – about 5 to 10 minutes. You want to make sure that the shallots don’t brown. Crank up the heat and pour in the wine. This is going to smell really really brilliant. Let the wine cook right down until there isn’t much left in the pan.

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Gently add the mussels to the pan, and gently mix. Put the lid on the pan, and let them cook for at least 3 minutes. After 3 minutes peek into the pan and see if they are open. If they aren’t, quickly put the lid back on, and check after 5 minutes. Once they are opened, take them off the heat and add the rest of the parsley and the butter, and gently mix.

To serve, just divide the mussels between two bowls. Pour over the pan juice. Cut up some bread, and spoon out some tapenade. Savor these. They are bloody wonderful.

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  • Matthew Amster-Burton February 28, 2008 at 12:43 am

    Great tips, Matt. I love mussels. Couple things I’d add. First of all, in my opinion the best place to buy mussels in Seattle from Oyster Bill at the Taylor Shellfish stand, at most farmers markets (including University on Saturday and Ballard on Sunday). There’s never any question about the freshness or quality.

    Second, if you do end up having to buy at a supermarket fish counter, ask to see the tag. By law, they have to keep the tag on hand showing where and when the mussels were harvested, in case there’s a food poisoning outbreak. You can use this to your advantage and see if the mussels are fresh. I’ve seen mussels being sold a month after harvest. Ewwww.

  • Syrie February 28, 2008 at 6:07 am

    I love moules too. Yours look delightful. I love the sound of the olive tapenade. I will definitely be trying out your recipe soon. Great photos by the way.

  • mattwright February 28, 2008 at 6:40 am

    Good tips too Matthew. I have never actually bought mussels from Oyster Bill, but have heard good thinks. Heck, he looks like a fisherman, so that is good enough for me 😀

    I cannot imagine much better than the Penn Cove mussels from Mutual Fish though, but the next time I am at the market, I will have to give Bill’s mussels a go (thank god that isn’t spelt muscle).

    Yeah, a certain supermarket at the bottom of Queen Anne that has now changed hands had mussels that old, the bloke really didn’t want to show me the tag.

  • White On Rice Couple February 28, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Those Penn Cove mussels, make us miss having good seafood again. The tepenade and bread is a meal in itself!
    BTW- our first cooking video is up!