Mussels steamed in white wine
This dish is an absolute breeze to make. It takes five minutes from beginning to end — providing you’ve got a cook’s helper to beard the mussels for you. If not, add on another 10 minutes. The ‘beard’ is what the mussel uses to attach itself to its bed. It looks like a tuft of hairy algae along the rounded edge of the mussel. To remove it, grasp it firmly and give it a sharp tug.
I prefer to use smaller mussels for this dish, as I find they are sweeter and more tender. If they are not available where you live, larger mussels will also be fine. The key is that they should be very fresh — if possible, straight from the sea. When you get them home from the market or fishmonger, place them in an uncovered dish in the fridge until you are ready to prepare them. This will allow them to breathe and stay fresh.
How to eat the mussels? In France, the tradition is to use an empty shell as a pincher: Take a mussel, shell and all, with the thumb and finger of one hand, and pinch out the tender morsel using the empty shell in your other hand. No utensils necessary, but be sure to give everyone at the table a soup spoon for the tasty broth at the bottom of the bowl.
Tip: Do not use salt with this recipe. The seawater inside the mussels contains plenty of salt, and more would be too much of a good thing.
1 quart (1 liter) mussels, preferably small
2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1 medium onion
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
freshly ground black pepper
Place the mussels in a colander and rinse with cold water. Now transfer them to a bowl full of cold water and, one by one, remove the beard, rinse and place back in the colander. If any mussels are open and do not close back up when you place them in the cold water, discard them.
Finely mince the onion. Rinse and chop the parsley.
In a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the butter to sizzling. Add the onion and sauté briefly, about one minute, until wilted. Add the mussels and stir. Add the wine. Grind in some black pepper. Turn up the heat and cover the pot.
Check the mussels after a couple of minutes to see whether they have all opened. If not, give them a stir and cover the pot. Check again after one minute more. Your aim is to remove the mussels from the heat as soon as they have all opened to ensure they stay tender and don’t get rubbery due to overcooking.
When the mussels have opened, remove from heat. (If there are a couple that did not open, discard them as they may not be good.)
Add the parsley and stir. Ladle into shallow bowls and serve immediately. Serves 2.
What to serve with the mussels? Crusty bread, a chilled dry white wine, with perhaps a salad to follow. And be sure to place a large bowl on the table as a recipient for the empty shells.