There is something so indulgent about foods that require you to eat with your hands. Touching your food creates a connection to it that appeals on some basic primitive level. Sitting down to a big pot of mussels definitely gives this primal pleasure—all the more because searching each little shell is a little like a treasure hunt, which is rewarded with tender meaty bites. And the broth that accompanies them always tastes even better when scooped up along with the mussel and sipped out of the shell. This is one of my favorite bistro classics; however, there is no reason they should be reserved for dinners out, especially when you can have them fresher and cheaper at home.
You’ll want to buy them as fresh as possible, but you can store them in the fridge for a couple of days before preparing if needed. Remember these little guys are alive and they need air, so don’t cover them up in a closed container. Instead store them in the refrigerator in a large bowl and place a damp towel over them. This will give them enough moisture and allow them to breathe. When you’re ready to cook them, the basic rule of thumb to weed out the bad ones—explained in more detail below—is that they should be tightly closed before cooking, and open after.
Once you master trick of cleaning them, they’re remarkably easy to prepare and cook very quickly. Moreover, you can make countless variations to suit whatever mood you’re in. This version gets a nice kick of heat from Andouille sausages. In fact, the sausages give off so much flavor that you actually won’t need much else in the way of seasoning.
Serve with a salad and crusty bread, over pasta, or with French fries for the full bistro effect. All I really need though, is a spoon to get every last bit of broth, and a bowl for the empty shells.
SPICY MUSSELS WITH ANDOUILLE SAUSAGE
4 lbs mussels
2 Andouille sausages, chopped into small cubes (I used a chicken version just to keep things on the lighter side)
1 medium shallot, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, diced
1½ cups dry white wine (I used a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc)
5 cups chicken stock
2 TBSP sliced green onions
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To Clean & Prep the Mussels:
1. Rinse mussels well under cold water to remove any sand or grit.
2. Check through to make sure all the mussels are alive. The mussels should be tightly closed. Firmly tap any open mussels that are open. If they do not close within a couple of minutes after being tapped, they should be discarded. Mussels that are cracked or have broken shells should also be discarded.
3. De-beard the mussels. The beard is the fuzzy little tuft you might see sticking out of some of the mussels. Simply scrape these off of the mussels that have them with a pairing knife or pull them off by tugging them with your fingers. Don’t worry if you don’t get every strand. The beards aren’t harmful, they’re just kind of ugly and don’t have the best texture.
4. Once they’ve been de-bearded, the mussels should be cooked right away.
To Prepare the Spicy Mussels with Andouille Sausage:
1. Pour a small amount of oil into a large pot and heat over medium heat.
2. Add the diced sausages and cook until lightly browned, stirring often. Remove the sausages from the pan and set aside.
3. Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine, making sure to scrape up any brown bits.
4. Add the shallots and garlic. Cook them gently over medium-low heat until softened.
5. Add the rest of the white wine and allow it to reduce down by about a quarter.
6. Add four cups of the chicken stock and a healthy pinch of salt and pepper. Allow the stock mixture to simmer over medium-high heat for about ten minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Taste and adjust seasoning.
7. Add the mussels. The liquid should come about 2/3 of the way up the pile of mussels. Add the remaining cup of chicken stock as needed.
8. Reduce heat to low, cover and allow the mussels to cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Uncover. By now, most of the mussels should have opened. If needed, cover and cook the mussels for another couple of minutes. Any mussels that haven’t opened at this point should be discarded.
9. Add in the reserved Andouille sausage and the green onions and stir to incorporate and heat through. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning one last time.
10. Serve mussels in a bowl with broth ladled on top.