I’ve been enjoying mussels since I discovered them on a date in the late 80s. I really love them. If a restaurant has mussels on the menu, that’s usually my pick.
If I don’t order the mussels and a dining companion does, I feel a prick of envy and regret when the meals arrive. I might even stare longingly at their bowl for a few minutes, until one or two of the tasty morsels are offered to me.
But I’ve never been brave enough to cook them.
I thought they wouldn’t open up, or that I would overcook them, or that they’d somehow know I was a bivalve mollusk amateur.
I overcame my fears last night, inspired by this month’s issue of Food & Wine magazine and an incorrect assumption about the dish on the cover photo.
The cover recipe was from a great new Houston restaurant called March, a dish of clams and what I thought was corn. Doesn’t that look like corn to you? It’s actually fregola, which was unfamiliar to me. Fregola is an Italian pasta similar to couscous. I learned from this article in Food 52 that the name comes from the word “fregolare”, which means “to reduce to crumbs”, and Wikipedia says the literal translation of fregola is “little fragments”.
I’m open to new things but I’ll try fregola and this specific recipe another time. The corn and mollusk combination appealed to me, especially if mussels were included. Now was the time to learn how to cook them. That’s the “new thing” this post is about.
Our local HEB grocery store had live clams and mussels – yay! The mussels were in a bag so I couldn’t tell if any were open (dead) but the fishmonger (I love that word!) carefully picked the clams to ensure that they were all live.
I was really nervous about my mollusks perishing before I turned them into our dinner. I put them in a bowl with crushed ice on the counter, as recommended by the fishmonger, but it melted quickly, so decided to cook them early and then refrigerate them until it was time to make dinner.
I read up on how to clean mollusks – wash and brush was the answer. No problem! I gave those babies from the sea a nice bath and scrubbed them, respectfully, sensitively, carefully, of course.
Then I read about how to cook them, and steamed them in some white wine in a covered pan on the stove for just short of 6 minutes.
I wasn’t sure what I would find when I removed the lid. Remember, it was my first time. I’m a bivalve mollusk-cooking novice.
But all that worry for was nothing.
All of my mollusks opened! Every one of them. I was delighted.
I refrigerated my perfectly cooked, all-open mollusks and set about making the rest of the meal in a leisurely, self-satisfied pace. I used the clams recipe from Food & Wine as a loose guide but also did my own riffs on it, taking lots of pics as I went.
The meal was GREAT!
I want to make it one more time before I share the recipe, to get the amounts exactly right (there was more broth than necessary) and to get better pictures of the completed dish.
But last night, none of that mattered, I had become a person who had mastered the mollusk. I savored every morsel.
I told a friend in Scotland today (via text) that I had cooked mussels for the first time, and he said, “That’s beyond my bravery 😊.” So I know I’m not the only one who has bivalve mollusk-cooking trepidation.
But my friends, it was so easy. Why did I wait this long?
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