If you ever see PEI Mussels, that simply means they come from Prince Edward Island in Canada. If you are not familiar with this region of Canada, it is basically in the Northeast (over Maine as we would reference it in the United States). It is an island known for its purity and farming, and that brings us to mussels. Are mussels grown, raised, or farmed? Mussels of quality are actually on a “farm”. It is still in the wild in the sea, but under controlled conditions where they test the water, salinity and minerals regularly. This does not mean they are the best, but it does mean they are the most consistent, and free of outside hazards or toxins in unregulated waters.
Mussels are a shellfish, seafood, which means you have to be careful. If you get a 2 pound bag, sort through each one, wash and/or scrub them, and be sure none are open. Some will be crushed or broken, and you need to discard them. Others are open, and if you try to force them closed and they do not stay closed, then they are dead or not good. Discard them, it is not worth one contaminating the whole batch. Even after you cook them, check again. If some do not open, discard them. I got lucky here, out of dozens, I only found 3 that were broken and/or were not closed as seen below.
The best two ways to cook these are through steaming. The only difference between the white and red, is if you add tomato sauce or not. The basic recipe is olive oil, onion, garlic and white wine. If you add crushed tomatoes, now it is called “Mussels Marinara”.
You can’t go wrong either way. The only question is, do you eat a whole pound of them by yourself with some garlic or baguette bread, or, do you make some long linguini pasta and share it with some other people. No matter which route you go, it is either served with grilled or toasted bread, or over long pasta like spaghetti or linguine. Be sure to start cooking your pasta the same time as your mussels so both are done at the same time for the sake of serving and/or not letting one or the other or under cook.
- 2 pounds mussels
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large shallot or one small onion
- 1 pinch Red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
- 2 cups crushed or crushed plum tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped, sliced, or minced
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- OPTION: Fresh bread (Italian, French or Artisinal baguette OR long pasta such as linguine)
You can use any pot or pan for this, as long as you have a top lid to help steam for the cooking process. I prefer a Dutch oven. A Dutch oven is a heavy cast iron pot coated with enamel and great for cooking a wide variety of things, especially for braising over a long period of time.
As always, slowly heat your olive oil, shallots and garlic along with a pinch of red pepper flakes. After a few minutes, you will smell it and see it start to get soft and brown. Now add in the white wine. Allow to cook down, then add the tomatoes and perhaps just a splash of water. The common mistake here is to add too much water or not get the sauce thick enough. Don’t worry if the sauce looks a bit on the thick side, once you add the mussels, they will release more water they have inside. In addition, with that water will be more salt they contain from the seawater, so be sure not to add too much salt, go light, you will see it automatically adjust seasoning at the end.
Once you do add the mussels, put the lid on and cook. We are talking no more than 3 minutes. They cook fast, but the key is to shake the pot so they evenly cook, and the bigger mussels shift to allow the smaller ones to open. Once they do open, take a look, but allow at least another minute. Just because they open does not mean they are cooked. They must open, then finish cooking to be done. Remember these are shellfish, but unlike clams, they cannot be eaten raw and should be cooked through.
Add fresh parsley, served with grilled bread, or toast some Italian bread and rub with fresh garlic and add olive oil. If you prefer pasta, put the sauce in a saucepan, add the pasta after it has cooked and cook for another 2 minutes in order to allow the pasta to absorb the tomato sauce and flavors. Once it is done, then put the mussels into the serving dish.
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