Handling mussels, like handling all seafood, is kind of freaky. You wonder what they’re thinking the entire time you’re walking home from the fishmonger. Shell-shocked? Absolutely panic-stricken? After all, the last week or so had to have been the most harried of their lives—being forcibly removed from their homes, plunked onto a bed of ice, removed from the bed of ice, and tossed carelessly into a plastic bag.
I guess I have the tendency to personify bivalves, crustaceans, and all gill-bearing creatures. In one instance, they’re the weird creepy-crawly organisms you study in biology class, living in their watery ecosystems like citizens of another planet. In another, they’re dinner. On your plate, deveined, cracked, peeled, sometimes deep-fried (if you’re lucky!), and dispersed among plates. And somewhere along the way, you’re responsible for this transformation.
Can you tell I’m not used to handling seafood?
I feel like I should apologize. I’m the worst marketing writer ever. Because how am I supposed to convince you to make this recipe when you’ve now got the image of death-by-steaming on your mind?
Because seafood is delectable, that’s why. And I was quickly able to overcome lay aside my misgivings once the sauce was heartily boiling away, and again later upon uncovering the pot and being smacked in the face by the briny, wine-y aroma of fresh-steamed mussels.
So here’s what, people: steaming your own mussels is not only incredibly easy, but also wonderful in the way only home-cooked meals can be.
For our last lunch in Montauk, we decided to order a heaping plate of steamed mussels served in an uber-creamy, uber-buttery sauce that was so delicious, we ate way more bread than we intended and ended up spoiling our appetites for dinner. With that meal in mind, I decided to try reproducing its decadence a few days later. I steamed three pounds of mussels in a creamy white wine sauce that was simultaneously soul-satisfying but also heavy beyond belief. So, because I wanted more mussels but less cream, I decided to veer in a lighter direction, and go with a spicy tomato-based sauce full of flavor but not fat.
I hate to make it sound like diet food. It’s not. Because you have to serve the mussels with lots of crusty bread to sop up the sauce. Or you could serve it atop pasta and feel a very balanced meal taking shape.
First, though, overcome your mussel-handling fears. At least it’s not a lobster.
SPICY STEAMED MUSSELS IN TOMATO SAUCE
Adapted from SELF
Serves 2 to 3
2 Tbsp EVOO
15 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
2 teaspoons salt
2 pounds mussels
2-1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley
Clean mussels thoroughly and remove beards (but only right before cooking). Discard any mussels with broken shells or ones that won’t close if you push the shell down for a few seconds.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook sliced garlic, scallions and salt, stirring occasionally, until scallions and garlic color slightly, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and pepper flakes, and use your spatula to break up the tomatoes a little. Add the wine and mussels. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until mussels open, 2 to 3 minutes. Discard any mussels that don’t open. Uncover pan and add parsley; toss to combine. Divide mussels evenly among 4 bowls and spoon broth over them. Serve with bread.