The Earthbound Cook
by Myra Goodman
Mussels are not difficult or time-consuming to cook. They are also one of the most sustainable seafood choices you can make. A bowl of steaming mussels makes a great first course, or you can pair them with a big green salad and a loaf of crusty garlic bread for a light supper. The secret to this dish is the very tasty broth—a combination of butter, wine, and Pernod. Pernod is a French liqueur with a light anise (licorice) flavor. Unfortunately, it's expensive and has few other uses in cooking. The mussels will still be good without the liqueur, but if you plan on making this dish fairly often, consider adding Pernod to your liquor cabinet.
• 3 pounds mussels
• 1 cup dry white wine
• 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
• 1/3 cup thinly sliced leek (white and light green parts only)
• 2 small ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
• 2 tablespoons Pernod (optional)
• 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into 4 pieces
• 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Scrub the mussels in cold water and scrape off any hairy fibers with a small knife.
2. Place the wine, garlic, and leek in a saucepan that is large enough to hold the mussels. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
3. Add the mussels and cover the pan tightly. Cook for 4 minutes. Then add the tomatoes, Pernod if using, butter, parsley, and tarragon. Continue to cook, uncovered, until the broth has reduced by about half and the mussels are open, about 5 minutes.
4. Remove the mussels with tongs and divide them among four warmed bowls. Discard any mussels that have not opened. Return the saucepan to high heat and reduce the broth to concentrate the flavors, about 2 minutes. Season the broth with salt and pepper to taste, pour it over the mussels, and serve immediately.
Some mussels have string-like fibers protruding from their shells. These fibers are linked to the interior flesh of the mussel and are what help attach the shellfish to surfaces underwater. Remove the beards right before cooking. Holding the shell in one hand and grasping the beard with the fingers of your other hand, pull the beard quickly and firmly toward the hinge of the mussel. If the beard is particularly recalcitrant, cut it by gently scraping along the edge of the shell with a small sharp knife.