Red Hot Mussels

I’m not talking about bulging biceps or curvy apple-bums when I mention mussels. I don’t sport the guns, and while I do love some curves, these mussels are of the nautical variety. Cheap, sustainable, and outlandishly delicious mussels are a standard in the giusto kitchen. However, I’ve been told they intimidate many home-cooks and I’m here to raise your spirits and help you conquer your fear of these blue bivalves.

At $3.99 a pound, you’ll have a hard time turning these down for economic reasons. The PEI (Prince Edwards Isle) species, meaning smaller and blackish-blue, are the most common in the states and offer a small, meaty, lightly-briny shot of aquatic noshing. The alternative, New Zealand Green Mussels, are much larger and feature a much fancier outfit in their neon-green shells. Also delicious, the kiwi mussels are more delicate and much more expensive like fluorescent wind-breaker wearing escorts from the Pacific!

Like many clams or bivalves, half of the flavor is in the “liquor” or water released once cooked, so I like to steam my mussels in a bubbling cauldron of goodness. Below is a 10 minute recipe that has become a personal favorite, tho I’ll be sure to include a few other varieties during the summer. Let’s Pump…it up:

Mussels in Red Sauce (Cozze in Rosso)
serves 2 for dinner, 4 as antipasto

2 lbs Blue Mussels
5 Garlic Cloves
4 San Marzano Tomatoes (canned)
1/4″ Thick Slice of Pancetta
Chopped Italian Parsley
Loaf of Crusty Bread
E.V. Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Red Chile Flakes

Start first by washing and scrubbing down all your mussels, discarding any that appear open or do not close up after being rinsed (only eat these if you LOVE hurling for hours on end). Remove the beards, the stringy bits hanging out of the side of the shell, and keep on ice until ready to cook.

Everything happens pretty fast so while you heat a large pot on medium high heat start dicing your pancetta into 1/4″ cubes, slice your garlic thinly and crush your tomatoes by hand until just broken up.

Once the pan is hot, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom and add your pancetta. Stir often and cook until almost crispy all over. Add your sliced garlic and a couple hefty pinches of red chile flakes. cook 30 seconds or until garlic is translucent and then add your tomatoes. They’ll hiss and pop like angry nuns but stir everything around for a minute and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes.

Once the tomatoes have simmered down add your mussels, toss in the sauce, and cover the pot. Steam, stirring once or twice, for 3-5 minute or until the mussels open their shells. As soon as they’re open they’re ready so keep an eye out and kill the heat once all open. Toss any that remain closed.

Before serving add a generous handful of chopped parsley, a last drizzle of olive oil and serve in a deep bowl with crusty bread so you can mop up all the liquid love at the bottom. Megs and I will kill these off as a light dinner but they’re also great as an antipasti before pasta or grilled fish.

It turns out, these once intimidating mollusks need nothing more than a few minutes in a flavorful bath to render them approachable and damn tasty. If eating them alone is not your bag, try mixing up a smaller batch and toss in some bucatini or spaghetti as an alternative. Happy flexing!

SPARK NOTES: 1. CLEAN MUSSELS 2. COOK UP A GARLICY BREW 3. TOSS IN YOUR MUSSELS 4. WAIT 3 MINUTES AND SERVE’M UP!

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