Nice Muscles. Or was that Mussels?

Mussels (5 of 6)Vanity. It has the potential to be the undoing of the best of us. I work hard to be both selfless and self-aware. However, I was wearing a skimpy tee-shirt (it was a hot day) in the middle of a French market. I heard a clear (too clear for my finely tuned Irish ear) English accent. “Ooooohhh. Look at those muscles. They are wonderful.” I blushed, as one of a fine physique and a self-deprecating attitude should. However, the owner of the sharp voice pushed by us and went to the seafood stall. I followed, somewhat crestfallen, joined the queue and bought a kilo for myself.

I had to admit it. They were nice mussels....

I had to admit it. They were nice mussels….

Now, there really is very little involved in cooking these mussels. In fact, very like my ageing ‘guns’, less is more.

A very limited ingredients list. Add some fresh chilli if you like.

A very limited ingredients list. Add some fresh chilli if you like.

The ingredients for two runs as follows:

  • 1 kilo (2lbs) of mussels
  • A couple of cloves of garlic
  • 2 shallots
  • A little olive oil
  • A glass of white wine (get a bottle and swill the balance with the meal)
  • A handful of parsley
  • A fresh, crusty French loaf of some description

Prepare the mussels by bearding them. It’s pretty much the same thing as bearding a lion except, you have to pull the beard right off the mussels. Don’t go bearding any lions on my say-so. You will end up as popular as a Minnesota dentist. Now for the important bit of the post:

How to avoid killing your family when serving mussels
First. Buy fresh mussels. If you buy dodgy specimens of indeterminate age, you are on your own. If any of the mussels are open, tap them against the side of the sink (you will be bearding them at the sink). If they close, they are good to cook. If they don’t, get rid of them. Get rid on any with broken shells too. After the mussels have been cooked, if any don’t open, get rid of them too. The reason for all this is very simple. A dead open mussel won’t close before cooking. A dead closed mussel won’t open during cooking. Don’t take any chances. Eating already dead mussels is gambling with your health.

If the above paragraph doesn’t put you off, chop the garlic, shallots and parsley.

That's all the prep done. you will be eating in 5 minutes or so.

That’s all the prep done. you will be eating in 5 minutes or so.

Get a big pot and put it on a hot stove. Add the olive oil and then the garlic and shallots. Stir until aromas of garlic wonderfulness rise from the pot. Tip in the mussels. Stir until they start to steam a bit. Then chuck in the glass of wine. Cover for a couple of minutes. Then chuck in the parsley. Stir. The mussels should be opening by now.

This smells like garlic frying by the sea, when the tide is out.

This smells like garlic frying by the sea, when the tide is out.

Lots of online chefs recommend cooking the mussels for another 5 to 10 minutes from this stage. I don’t. Once they are open, they are cooked and full of flavour. If you start with fresh mussels, any more cooking will just make them tough and tasteless. Serve them straight from the pot. They will finish any cooking they need to do on their final journey from stove to table. Break the crusty bread into big clumps, if your muscles will let you. Spoon out mussels and the cooking liquid into bowls.

Follow my safety instructions and it will be heaven. Don't and it might be hell!

Follow my safety instructions and it will be heaven. Don’t and it might be hell!

Get stuck in, dipping the bread into the sauce and slobbering as you enjoy this lovely, salty, winey, garlicy, meal. It will build your muscles, I guarantee it.

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Latest comments
  • Perfectly formed, as you might say (or not, as you’re clearly a modest man). I concur on the safety instructions, having once had the worst food poisoning of my life from mussels. They were mussels from Brussels, not to be confused with Jean-Claude Van Damme, who was not on the menu. Getting my coat.

    • Linda, if only I had thought of it, I would have woven him in there. Making me laugh. Thank you!

  • I LOVE mussels. They, however, have different ideas, and will not stick around once consumed… Nothing to do with how fresh or otherwise they are, just a basic antipathy to my insides. I’ll leave you to it.

    • Best to stay away Kate. A pity as they are delicious.

  • Nice mussels and sound advice 😉

    • Thanks MD. Just trying to preserve the lives of my readers.

  • You made me laugh, thanks, started my Friday with a smile. Lovely post!

    • Thanks Sandra,
      delighted that I did so. Have a fantastic day.

  • Great recipe. I love it because it is simple, like it should be. I don`t like all the “fancy” mussel recipes. Oh, and by the way, I love the pictures in this post!

    • Thanks. The shots of the muscles in the bowl were difficult. I had to shoot outside, in an evening sun, having consumed too much of that lovely Bergerac wine.

  • Super! I’m going to do some with roquefort in a few days.

    • Mmmmm. Lovely thought Rosemary. I am planning some sweet wine and Roquefort. Having them with shellfish is blog worthy.

  • Love that story! And the recipe. Just wish I wasn’t allergic to mussels. I miss eating them. And I would have loved this dish.

  • Oh Conor! I would love to have a big bowl now as my osso buco is almost ready for lunch and the mussels prepared by a guy obviously with great muscles from all that cycling sounds so good as a first course 😉 ! Usually make mine exactly the same way!! Lordie, I would not dream of cooking such for one moment after they have opened: have been known to stand at the pot and pick some of the first eager ones out so they don’t become blessed rubber 😀 !!!

    • Thanks be to goodness I am not in a minority of one on the cooking. Not much worse than rubber muscles or mussels!

  • I’m just back from buying some moules de bouchot….they really are the best mussels, although local restaurants manage to serve really awful ones under the same name. It’s worth trying cooking them with absolutely nothing…clean them and put them straight into a big pan with nothing else…put on the lid and cook over a high heat for about 5-6 minutes…very good:)

    • That sounds perfect Roger. Vital that they are super fresh for that approach. It would be like tasting the sea!

  • Cultivated mussels from Prince Edward Island (PEI) Canada are exported throughout North America. For years the window of a wholesaler on one of Charlottetown’s main streets had a skimpy T-shirt in the window with a picture of mussels on it and the words: “Mussel Shirt.” If they still have them, do you need one?

    • You are too kind. My youngest brought me a Canon camera tee-shirt back from Thailand. It is skin tight and shows off my physique accurately. I don’t wear it!. Thanks for the very kind offer but, I suspect mussels or muscles, it would not be worn either. You are too kind.

  • Great post! Love the last shot of the mussels. The only thing missing is of course a shot of the muscles. Fully agree on not cooking the mussels any longer as soon as they have opened up. Both taste and texture are much better this way. Chilli is a nice optional ingredient, as is bacon or pancetta. But they are great ‘as is’.

    • Thanks Stefan. As a child, my Dad played a game with me. He would get me to flex my muscles and used to grab me by the ‘guns’ and say “Like knots on a piece of string.” They are getting that way again now…

  • Clever how you wove the Minnesota dentist in the story, I see what you did there! What a nice, simple and fresh meal. I finally went to our farmer’s market it (no seafood in this landlocked place) and found me a nice box of Bing cherries.

    • I look forward to the post – Lion steaks in a cherry (if not cheery) sauce!

      • I haven’t decided if I’m going to make anything out of them or just indulge and eat them as a summer afternoon snack!

  • Searching for something to make tonight and here’s a brilliant idea! I knew I would find something interesting and delicious if I paid you a visit. I’m heading out to the fish market now…

  • Ha! Those look superb. The mussels we find here in the States are always too damned big. (Doesn’t it figure?)

    • They must be Texas mussels. Everything is bigger in Texas.

  • Great mussels, errr muscles there Conor. 😉 Love the preparation. Very simple and clean. We love them this way. For something different, you really need to try them with chiles and chorizo. They are truly spectacular.

  • This looks amazing. Simple yet flavorful.

    • Thanks Amanda. Very simple indeed. But, risky if one does not play be the rules.

  • I’m concerned to hear about your ageing guns, Conor, sounds as if they’re out of step with the rest of you. Have they taken to wearing slippers and complaining about how late your calves stay up? Still, thank you for the common sense mussels recipe. My parents used to pretend to bring us to the seaside for a day out when we were kids but really we were slave labour to fill the boot with free mussels off inhospitable rocky stretches of non-beach. Deviants.

    • You made me laugh with the image. I grew up at Seapoint, near Dun Laoghaire. We used to look at ‘mad people’ taking the muscles away when the tide was out. I could never understand it. Now I do.
      I will work on the guns!

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