Ingredient SpotLight

Mussels are among the most consistent, delicious and, for the most part, inexpensive shellfish available to home chefs. While many shy away from them, mussels are a great way to enjoy seafood without a lot of time or effort.

There are three distinct species of blue mussels harvested in the U.S.: Mytilus edulis, the major mussel of Atlantic Canada and the U.S. East Coast; Mytilus galloprovincialis, farmed on the West Coast from Washington to Southern California; and Mytilus trossulus, indigenous from Alaska to California. Depending on the species and the environment, it takes anywhere from two to five years for a mussel to reach market size.

Unlike the other two species of blue mussels, the Mediterranean mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis spawns in winter, rendering it perfect to eat in the summer. U.S. importers brought in 4,135 tons of greenshell mussels Perna canaliculus from New Zealand in 1994, up from 3,061 tons in 1993. About 80% of that was frozen. The fan mussel Pinna fragilis is the world's largest mussel. Found in British waters, it measures up to 15 inches long.

When choosing mussels for cooking, their shells should be tightly closed or close when lightly tapped. Clean them just before cooking. To clean them, scrub them well to remove mud, seaweed and beards. Rinse well. After steaming, discard any unopened mussels. For variety, steam the mussels in white wine, beer, or clam juice instead of water.

And now, before your stomach growls more, here’s my favorite recipe featuring mussels. Enjoy!

Mussels with Red Pepper Mayonnaise

  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup low fat mayonnaise
  • 2 lbs. fresh mussels
  • 1/2 cup white wine

Preheat the oven to broil. Place the pepper in the oven and roast, turning frequently, until it is blackened on all sides. Remove the pepper and place it in a brown paper bag. Allow the pepper to cool.

While the pepper is cooling mince the shallots.

Place the olive oil in small sauté pan and heat.

Add the shallots. Cook over low heat.

Peel and seed the pepper. Dice it and add it to the shallots and cook over medium-low heat until soft.

Allow the mixture to cool and place it in blender with the mayonnaise. Blend the mixture until it is smooth.

Place the white wine in a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the mussels and steam them over medium heat until the mussels are just opened.

Remove and cut the mussels free from the shells. Arrange on the half shell and chill.

When you are ready to serve them, place about 1/2 teaspoon of the red pepper mayonnaise on top of each mussel.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes plus chilling time