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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mussels in Spicy Red Sauce

I remember my Dad bringing home Mussels or Clams usually on the weekend and asking us kids to smell them, "They smell just like the ocean!", he would say smiling and then he would quickly place them in the fridge with some wet paper towels on top. I always knew that a long fun filled evening around the table with friends and family was to follow, no bedtime curfew that night for sure ; ) So whenever I am at or near the ocean and I get a sniff of  that salty good air I don't think of Fun in the Sun I think of mussels and red sauce, or clams in white wine being enjoyed around a large table with lots of bread, laughter & yelling, and of course plenty of free flowing Paisana Wine!
Now, I enjoy all shell fish and even though clams are my probably my most favorite,  mussels would have to be a very close second. Mussels are extremely flavorful, plump, meaty, and very economical. I can get almost 5 pounds of fresh mussels for under $10 at Costco and that can feed 8- 10 people, you figure about 1/2 pound or 12 mussels per person which comes out to about $1 per person.
If you don't like red sauce with your with seafood here is my recipe for Mussels in White Wine.

Ingredients (Serves 4)
4 dozen mussels or 2 pounds (fresh or frozen) see Notes below
1 large can (28 oz) San Marzano Tomatoes
red pepper flakes ( good pinch)
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves minced
1/2/ cup white wine
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
sea salt to taste
Bruschetta  to serve with
Find a large/wide pot with lid. Heat up the oil on medium heat.
Add onion and a good pinch of salt and saute until soft but not brown.
Add garlic and saute until soft but not brown, stir constantly.
Add red pepper and stir.
Add wine and turn up heat to medium high, cook for a few minutes, 2-3.
Add tomatoes and stir, cook with the lid off stirring occasionally until it thickens up a bit, 10 minutes.
Add mussels, cover and cook for a few minutes (4-6) or until most the mussels are opened up. Keep checking every minute after the first 4 minutes. See NOTES below.
Add parsley and toss.
My Dad and I enjoying the smells of the ocean on the Isle of Ischia, Italy!
Serve in pasta bowls--about 12 per person-- with bruschetta on the side to soak up all those gorgeous juices! I usually serve this with a salad as well. You can serve with a white or red wine since it is seafood in tomato sauce. Never serve with cheese please!
If you want to serve this over pasta then remove the mussels once they are cooked and cover to keep warm. Cook your pasta 1 minute short. Then add the pasta and 1 ladle full of the pasta water to the sauce cooking and stirring for the final minute on medium high heat. Serve the pasta with the mussels son top!

Notes on  Cleaning, Storing, and Cooking Mussels
  1. Use fresh mussels as soon as possible, check the date on the package and do not go over. If they stink do not use, they are dead and rotting! They should smell like the ocean not dead fish.
  2. Keep your fresh mussels cool at all times, I even ask the fish guy or butcher for a baggie of ice to lay them over. Then immediately refrigerate them when you get home.
  3. Store fresh mussels by first removing the plastic and mesh baggie, they need to breathe. Next, place them in a colander over a bowl with a little ice and some wet paper towels or newspaper loosely laying on top, they are alive and need to breathe but the towels help them not dry out from the fridge air. Change the ice and wet paper towels every day. Make sure the mussels do not actually sit in the ice or any water they will suffocate if at all submerged and die. See photo below.
  4. Some people tap the shell fish before cooking to see if they are all alive but this takes a lot of time when you are steaming 4 pounds! Also, if they are cold they sometimes take quite a while to open up so I just wait and throw away any that do not open up after I cook them
  5. Frozen mussels need to be de-frosted do this by placing them in a colander over a plate in the fridge the night before using.
  6. De-beard by using some needle nose pliers and simply grabbing and pulling off. Most of today's farm raised mussels have very few beards.
  7. Clean by placing them a bowl of water and toss with your hands. Change water and repeat. Farm mussels are not really dirty and do not need scrubbing.
  8. If any mussels are still open after a few minutes remove them and discard as these are probably dead. But if you like to give them a second chance --who doesn't like a second chance-- remove them and then try and cook them separately in a pan of oil and wine until they open. If you keep cooking them with the rest the opened ones will become over cooked and like rubber.
  9. Do not over cook mussels, once most are open -- keep checking every minute or so-- remove from the heat, that is unless you like the texture of  rubber.
  10. Caution: Sometimes a piece of the shell breaks off especially with the mussels.  I try and sift through the sauce before serving.
This is how I store my mussels and clams in the fridge.

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