Shellfish with acid makes a classic pair; think citrus. Vinegar serves a similar but more assertive function, especially robust red wine vinegar. Mussels have a strong, indelicate flavor compared with clams or oysters so the seventeenth century choice of wine vinegar for them is a good one. This recipe is adapted from Giving Thanks, a lively and lovely history of the Thanksgiving tradition, with recipes, from Plimoth Plantation. The recipe may be doubled, tripled or more as needed. It makes a brisk first course for an otherwise rich repast--like Thanksgiving.
-1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
-1 clove garlic, chopped
-¼ cup minced parsley
-¼ cup red wine vinegar
-½ cup water
-2 lb bearded and scrubbed mussels
- Put everything but the mussels in a pot big enough to hold them and bring the liquid to a boil.
- Drop the mussels into the pot, let the liquid return to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook the mussels until they open, usually in not more than 10 minutes.
- Gently shaking the pot a couple of times while the mussels cook helps to ensure that they open a little more uniformly.
- This recipe also works with clams; use sherry vinegar if you have it.
- The Editor enjoyed another dish of simmered mussels years ago at the Quality Chop house in Farringdon Road, London. She uses a reverse engineered version often, particularly for clams. All you do is mince some shallot and cook it with some butter in some white wine or vermouth seasoned with either black pepper or red pepper flakes and diluted with half as much water. Once the shallots soften, drop your shellfish into the pot, bring it to a boil, cover and cook until the bivalves open in ten minutes or so.
- Giving Thanks indicates that the earliest New England settlers ate mussels. The authors quote a 1622 writer, Thomas Morton, at Plymouth:
“Mustles there are infinite store... excellent Mustles, to eate for variety, the fish is so fat and large.”
- Mussels remain rife for the taking on rocky points of the shoreline in coastal Rhode Island; a forager’s delight.