Two restaurants near me feature Mussels Night every week. The portions are abundant, and for about $15.00, you can’t beat the price. This value, plus their plump, sweet meat should be good enough, but in addition, mussels are protein- and nutrient-rich and modest in calories.
On Mussels Night, my haunts offer them in at least 15 ways, combining them with everything from the classic French or Italian trio of garlic, herbs and white wine, or a Thai blend of curry, coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger and lime, to wildly imaginative pairings like celery root, dill, cream and chardonnay.
For me, though, mussels fra diavolo is the best. This light, quickly prepared marinara-style tomato sauce kicks with fiery heat – hence the name from the Devil – and goes perfectly with the mussels; it’s heavenly afterwards sopped up with crusty bread.
Cooking mussels at home is as easy as steaming broccoli, while flavoring them is as simple as seasoning chicken. If eating shellfish concerns you, did you know that most mussels are sustainably farmed in clean, open water, that they actually improve water quality, and that to be sold in the United States, they must carry a tag telling when and where they were harvested?
When buying mussels, they should be closed or just slightly open. At home, discard ones that feel heavy, have broken shells, or do not close up when tapped. Farmed mussels rarely are sandy but do scrub them with a stiff brush. If they have the wiry hairs called a beard, remove it using a firm tug.
If you do not want to use wine, replace it with a half-cup water plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice. After cooking, discard any mussels whose shells did not open. Serve immediately.
Mussels Fra Diavolo
- 1 (28 oz.) can plum tomatoes in juice
- 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2-6 whole dried red chili peppers or 1/4 – 1 tsp. red pepper flakes, according to taste
- 1 branch fresh basil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup dry white wine (or 1/2 cup water plus 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice)
- 2 lbs. mussels
- 4 slices whole-wheat Italian bread, toasted or grilled
In bowl, squeeze tomatoes, one at a time, to crush them coarsely. Add 1/4 cup water to can, swirl to rinse and add to tomatoes. Set aside. In deep skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until golden, 2 minutes on each side. Remove and reserve garlic. Add onion and cook until soft, 5 minutes, stirring often.
Add to pan tomatoes, garlic, hot peppers or pepper flakes and basil. Simmer sauce for 10 minutes, or until sauce is thickened enough to have body but is not thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper. There will be about 3 cups sauce. Remove garlic, peppers and basil, if desired.
Meanwhile, place wine and mussels in large, deep saucepan, cover, and set over medium-high heat. Cook just until mussels open, 5-7 minutes. Using big slotted spoon or wire spyder, transfer mussels to skillet with sauce, discarding any that did not open. Cook until mussels are opaque but still tender, about 3 minutes. Immediately divide mussels among 4 wide, shallow bowls and serve with bread to sop up sauce.
Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 221 calories, 6 g total fat, (1 g saturated fat), 24 g carbohydrate, 15 g protein, 3 g dietary fiber, 304 mg sodium.
Something Different is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) www.aicr.org.