Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Flex your mussel muscle!

by Leanne Ely

Mussels seem to be one of those foods that's unapproachable to most home cooks. For some reason, mussels seem to be used more as a garnish in a seafood chowder or an ingredient in a paella than as a main course on dinner tables around the US.
I'm about to tell you how to buy mussels, how to cook them and why they're so good for you. And these bivalves have so much going for them that by the time you finish reading this post, I'll be very surprised if you don't run out and buy a couple pounds of them.

Now, first thing's first. In the US and in Canada, most mussels you'll find at your fish monger or in the grocery store, are cultivated, or farmed. I usually tell you not to buy farmed fish, and to always buy wild, but in the case of mussels it's a little different. Cultivated mussels are every bit as healthy as wild ones, and they are more plump and juicy, and they don't contain the grit that wild mussels do. Let me explain.

How are mussels farmed?

Mussels are farmed in a sustainable manner. The farmer hardly has to interfere with nature at all during the process. The farmer goes out into a natural body of water where mussels grow and sets down special ropes to collect "spat" (baby mussels) during mussel spawning season. These baby mussels are then simply put into mesh sleeves or "socks" and put back down into the water in their natural habitat, and feed on their natural diet. When they reach maturity, they are harvested.

If the farmer doesn't do anything at all, those mussels will still grow there, but they will settle on the sea bed where they will be full of sand and grit, or to the bottom of a boat, or on a rock where harvesting becomes problematic. The mesh mussel sock also allows the mussel to reach it's optimal size, so cultivated mussel meat is usually nice and plump.

In the US, most of our cultivated mussels come from New England, where 2,000 tons of blue mussels are harvested each year. But the US imports more than 15,000 tons of mussels each year from Australia and the US. Prince Edward Island leads Canada's production of mussels, and you'll find PEI mussels on many restaurant menus across the US.

Types of mussels

The most common type of mussel you'll find at the market is the Blue mussel, but you may also come across a species called the Mediterranean mussel. The Mediterranean is the larger of the two types, but the Blue is the tastiest.

Mussel nutrition

These little guys are absolute power foods. They contain extremely high levels of:

*    Protein. A serving of mussels contains 18-20g of very lean protein.
*    Amino acids. Mussels contain all of the amino acids we need in our diets but that we can't produce by ourselves.
*    Iron. Mussels are very high in iron, containing 5mg per serving.
*    Antioxidants. Mussels are a delicious way to get some antioxidants into your diet.
*    Vitamins and minerals. Mussels contain healthy levels of selenium, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin B12, manganese, phosphorous, riboflavin and thiamine.  

How to buy mussels

Get the freshest mussels they can give you at the fish counter. The mussels should be closed to indicate that the fish is still alive. (You don't want to cook and eat dead shellfish.) When you get home (ask for some shaved ice to transport your mussels home with if you have a long drive) put the mussels in the fridge or keep them on ice in a cooler until meal time. They can last a couple days in the fridge, but you should eat the mussels the day you buy them.

Don't just discard those open mussels. To find out if the mussel is alive, simply gently tap the shell. If the mussel is alive, the shell will close up. If it's dead, the shell won't close. Those are the ones you need to get rid of.

How to cook mussels

All you have to do to cook up a couple pounds of mussels is to rinse them under cold water and gently place them in a stock pot with about an inch of liquid and whatever aromatics you like. Try white wine, garlic and parsley for a delicious combination. Bring the heat up enough to create steam and keep the lid on. The mussels are done when the shells are opened, which should take about ten minutes.

When serving, discard any that didn't open during the cooking process (they were dead) and don't eat mussels with broken shells. (Save those shells for your bone broth!)

There you have it!

Will you add mussels to your shopping list this week? 

Copyright (C) 2013 www.savingdinner.com Leanne Ely, CNC All rights reserved.

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