Summer is over, the children are back in school, and for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the trees are in their splendor – flamboyant yellows and red hues are replacing the greens. Some of them are already dropping their leaves in preparation for their winter rest. Autumn is upon us. And that means it’s time for mussels.
As the temperature starts to drop and the rains become more frequent, what better way to counter the conditions than a large steaming pot of fresh mussels?
Traditionally, autumn is the season for mussels in Luxembourg. Of course, they can be found year-round in most major markets. Personally, I feel that autumn is the ideal season to take advantage of these delicate and delicious shellfish. And my Luxembourg friends tend to agree. The local demand surpasses several million tonnes annually. We crave our mussels!
A PERFECT WAY TO BEAT THE AUTUMN CHILL
I love sitting out on one of the brasserie terraces in Luxembourg’s city center, under a warm heat lamp while devouring this delectable shellfish. Brasseries usually serve these in a white wine Provençale broth or a white wine cream broth. I feel there is nothing better to chase away the coming winter chill than moules frites – a favorite of our Belgian neighbors. Mussels, with fries on the side. The fries bring a crunch to the dish, resulting in a substantial meal. A Luxembourgish Riesling brings a good balance with moules.
Eating mussels can be a messy affair. But here is a tip for those of you who venture to try mussels at your local restaurant. I use an empty mussel shell as mini tongs. Then with my mussel “tongs”, I clasp and pull the mussel meat from the next shell, keeping my fingers relatively clean.
Mussels are a superfood, rich in protein, minerals, nutrients, and vitamin B-12. They have a mild taste with soft and tender chewiness. Best of all, mussels are an inexpensive food that can be prepared hot or cold, and served as a main course or appetizer.
Whether you have guests coming over or are just planning a family night, mussels are a great dish to keep in your repertoire. Preparing this shellfish is easy and quick, requiring only five minutes to steam in a large pot. Cleaning cultivated mussels by rinsing in cold water, requires no time at all as they usually come devoid of beard and debris (unlike the wild ones which need to be de-bearded and scrubbed thoroughly before cooking).
Make sure all mussels are intact, the shells undamaged, bright, shiny, and closed. If any mussels are open, simply give them a tap on the counter to see if they close, if they don’t it means they are not alive and therefore need to be tossed!
These tasty sea creatures are generally steamed covered over a pot of an aromatic broth with a dab of butter or a drizzle of olive oil. They easily pick up the liquids in which they are submerged.
There are numerous ways to prepare mussels and endless recipes online. Growing up in Hong Kong, I learned the traditional Chinese method for preparing these morsels – stir fried.
Mussels take on an incredibly satisfying flavor when stir fried in a wok over high heat together with the classic fermented black bean, soy, Shaoxing wine, red vinegar and garlic chili paste. The aromatics applied are either or both, red or green sweet bell peppers, green onions, sliced ginger, chopped fresh garlic and cilantro leaves. The sauce gives a complex umami flavor to the tender mussels that yield plump juicy meat, generally served with the ubiquitous bowl of steamed rice.
RECIPE: Cantonese style mussels
My version of the Cantonese Style Stir Fry Mussels in Tausi (fermented soy black bean).
1 lb. live mussels in shells (approximately 30 large ones). Please note that if you use wild mussels, you must be sure to debeard, scrub and rinse in cold water.
2 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 red chili finely diced (seeds removed)
1 stem green onion julienned
1 red sweet bell pepper julienned (membranes and seeds removed)
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon fermented soy black beans finely crushed
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons of water
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon red vinegar (substitute black or with malt vinegar, if red vinegar is not available)
2 tablespoons of Shaoxing Wine (substitute with sherry if not available)
sliced green onion
Fill a large pot with 1 cup of cold water, place over high heat, add the cleaned mussels, cover and let steam till all the shells are open (around 4 minutes, depending on the size). Discard the ones that do not open.
Whilst the mussels are steaming, heat a large wok on high, add the vegetable oil, sesame oil, black beans and all of the aromatics once the oil is heated. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, then add sugar, soy sauce 2 tablespoons water and wine. The mussels should be ready by now, drain the water, add the mussels into the wok. Now add the vinegar and stir around so all the mussels are coated with the rich, dark thick umami sauce.
Plate the mussels with the sauce, arrange some of the mussels casually on top, garnish with cilantro leaves and sliced green onions.
Serve with a bowl of steamed jasmine rice to sop up the sauce.
Hou Sik (Bon Appétit)!