The trick about mussels is knowing when they’re supposed to be open and when they’re supposed to be closed.
Fresh mussels at the market should be closed. Some may be open but, if they are alive, a sharp tap on the shell will have the same effect as on a schoolgirl who has received a jab in the ribs from the headmistress reminding her to keep her knees together.
How should they look when they are cooked? Most will open and should be removed from the pan once they are. Some determined little blighters take longer - either give them more time or coax them open with a knife. There was an urban myth reprinted as true in many a cookbook that mussels that didn't open when cooked were 'bad' and should be discarded. The myth is untrue but is often authoratively repeated to this day.
Some mussel recipes:
Beard and clean the mussels (use your partner’s nailbrush for this – they’ll never notice). To a frypan with olive oil add some diced chorizo sausage. As it is starting to crisp add some chopped onion and garlic and soften for a couple of minutes. Add the mussels and the bottom half of a large glass of white wine. Add some fresh or canned diced tomato or passata, but not too much – you don’t want it to cover the taste of the wine and the mussels. Add some chopped green herbs such as parsley, basil or coriander along with pepper and salt. If required add some more wine (remembering that only the bottom half of a glass is suitable for cooking). As the mussels open, remove and set to one side,
If desired turn up the heat to reduce the sauce. If you are game, add some finely chopped seeded chillies. Briefly return the mussels to the sauce then serve in bowls accompanied by crusty sourdough bread for soaking up the juices.
Smoked Mussels Buckley
William Buckley, the wild white man who lived with the Aborigines before the establishment of the white settlement at Melbourne, spent a good deal of his time surviving on shellfish. This is probably the recipe he used.
Wade into the water and fish out a batch of mussels. They are often interconnected on a sort of rope. Throw them on the coals of the campfire. As they open, fish them out as best you can and enjoy the salty, smoky flavour of fresh Mussels Buckley.
White Hat Marinated Mussels
Buy a container of mussels in brine. (In Melbourne, we can recommend the $4.50 tubs from the seafood wholesaler in Wingfield Street Footscray). Transfer to a jar, discarding half the brine and replacing it with your favourite combination of vinegar, chillies, garlic, peppercorns etc. There is no need to do any fancy boiling stuff to maintain the shelf life of the pickling liquid. These mussels will be well and truly consumed before that becomes an issue. Place the lid on and cover with a square of gingham secured with a rubber band. By a well-known but as yet not completely understood scientific process, the gingham imparts a special flavour to any contents in the jar which is why any goods which you buy in a market which have been prepared in this fashion cost twice as much. Marinated mussel’s go well as part of a late afternoon tapas on a summer day.
Joris Hoefnagel (illuminator) [Flemish / Hungarian, 1542 - 1600] and Georg Bocskay (scribe) [Hungarian, died 1575]
Port Phillip Mussel Festival
White Hat can thoroughly recommend this vibrant seafood festival come street party. Enjoy mussels and other seafood cooked in a wide variety of ways all accompanied by one of Melbourne's best free jazz festivals. Street vendors combine with the market's own restaurants to provide plenty of variety from the cheap and cheerful through to chef-prepared restaurant dishes. Sit in the sun with a cold sangria and a hot mussel paella or enjoy a craft beer with wok cooked drunken mussels.
Details at Port Phillip Mussell Festival
Portarlington Mussel Festival
This community festival is one of the most popular bayside holiday festivals in Victoria attracting around 30,000 people. As you might guess the chief focus is on the locally produced mussels, but other attractions grow year by year including:
Art & Photo exhibitions
Classic car displays
Food & Wine producers
Products to try and buy
And needless to say, plenty of mussels.
Congratulations to the volunteers who make this happen each year.