The best part of this dish is that it might just make you feel like you are dining at a sidewalk café in Paris, particularly if you pair it with a tipple of the white wine you popped open for cooking. Plus, it’s easy to make and creates a lip-smacking broth so good you might want to drink it with one of the curly straws you hide in the back of the drawer for special occasions.
The worst thing about this dish is that your child may break out in hives upon sight of shiny black mollusks showing up at the dinner table. And not because of a shellfish allergy.
An evening in Paris? I’d say it’s worth the risk. Plus, your kids might at least try them, and possibly even like them. Mussels are sort of strange, and messy and fun to eat. And consider the fact that in France and Belgium they are thought to be quite a family friendly food eaten most commonly with that other kid favorite: French fries. Here is the U.S. mussels aren’t so popular for the everyday table. They’re even considered a little bit fancy by some, which is odd because they’re widely available, pretty inexpensive and a no-brainer to cook.
Mussels are also sustainable. The country’s supply is almost entirely from farmed sources that get a “Best Choice” stamp of approval from the folks at Seafood Watch. Furthermore, they’re good for you. Rich in protein, they provide an enormous dose of vitamin B12, a pretty good hit of Omega 3 fats, along with selenium and manganese.
If you’ve never cooked mussels before, make your purchase the day you plan to eat them and keep them good and cold until prep time. Throw out any mussels that are cracked or opened. If the mussels you buy aren’t already cleaned and de-bearded (removing the little fuzzy bit attached to the mussels), you can do this yourself by immersing them in an icy cold bowl of water, scrubbing the ones that need it, and tugging or cutting off the beard. This will add to your prep time, but should go pretty quick.
As for what to serve with mussels, I’m partial to crusty bread that’s been sliced, rubbed with garlic and olive oil and then blistered on a grill or under a broiler. Dipped in the savory mussel broth, it’s my favorite part of the whole experience. This and a simple salad makes a meal. You can also accompany them with fries, of course. I do those by cutting Russets into French fry shapes, tossing them with olive oil and salt, and roasting them in a 450 degree oven until brown.
If mussels are new to your kids, here are a few suggestions:
- Serve them with little fanfare and heavy up on the side dishes.
- Cut the amount of mussels down by a third or a half and substitute medium, unpeeled shrimp or another familiar, quick cooking seafood.
- Bring them into the kitchen to assist with meal prep. This may boost their interest.
At the very least, invite them to help fish the mussels out of their shells for you at the dinner table. Hey, they may just surprise you by actually eating one, or even a bowl full.
Look what happened in our house:
MUSSELS IN WHITE WINE & GARLIC
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion
- 2 large cloves garlic
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 pounds fresh mussels, cleaned an de-bearded
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Salt to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. While the oil is heating, finely chop the onion. Add the onion to the pan and sauté for about 3 minutes.
While the onion is cooking, peel and thinly slice the garlic. Add the garlic to the onion and sauté another minute or so. Add the wine and tomato paste and stir so the tomato blends into the sauce. Allow the wine to gently bubble on the stove for a minute or two.
While the wine is cooking, remove the mussels from the refrigerator, put in a colander and rinse. Add them to the pan, turn the heat to high, and cook, stirring from time to time, until the shells open. This will happen within a couple of minutes. If you cover the pan, it will go even quicker.
Once the mussels open, add the butter to the pan and swirl it around until it melts. Taste the broth and add salt, a pinch at a time, until it tastes well seasoned. Sprinkle the parsely over the top.
Serve in bowls, being sure to include some of the broth.
Makes 4 servings
Rub 4 generous slices of fresh, crusty bread with cloves of garlic that have been smashed and peeled. Brush the bread with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Cook on a grill, grill pan, or under a broiler until crisp around the edges, slightly blistered, but still somewhat soft in the center.Photos by Isabelle Morford