There is a cluster of mussels attached to the salty spots of my heart. They were the first shellfish I learned how to cook when I was a teenager. My mom and dad showed me how to dump a bit of white wine and pepper into the pot, pop them open with a boil, and drizzle their stock over them. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we eat our mussels this way, with a bit of garlic, a pinch of salt and maybe some butter.
This very elegant and easy presentation of mussels came about by accident. I had some left in the fridge and had to use them. To my delight, I discovered that the broth had permeated the mussels in the most delicate and robust way.
Prepare the mussels the day before so that they may rest in their broth overnight, at least.
For the Mussels
- 1/2 lb. mussels, cleaned and debearded
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, left whole
- 4 black peppercorns, whole, or a few dashes of ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 clove of garlic, squashed
- sea salt
- 2/3 cup water
If you have it, put some ice into a bowl. If you don’t, skip it.
Throw everything into a pot. Cover. Turn the heat up high. As soon as it begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium until all the mussels open. This should only take 1-2 minutes. Pick out the mussels as soon as they open. Put them on the ice, if you have it. If some don’t open, cook a few seconds longer. Many people think they should throw them out, but, in my opinion, the mussels you have to really coax and work at are the most savory ones.
Once they’ve all opened (by boil or by brute), put them into the freezer to cool for 10 minutes or so. Then pick them out of their shells and mince them finely. Put them in the fridge to cool more.
Meanwhile, cool the broth–with everything in it–to room temperature before putting into the fridge to cool completely.
As soon as both are cool, strain the broth and combine it into one dish with the mussels. Marinate them overnight.
To Arrange the Mussel Caviar
- Minced mussels
- Rose petals
- Chives, fresh and still whole
- Sorrel (preferably wood sorrel), cut into long, isosceles triangles.
- 1 lemon, zested
Chill your plates. Take out the mussels and lay them on a cloth or paper towel, to remove excess moisture.
Keep the chives several inches long, but slice them on the bias (diagonally). Cut the sorrel into small inch-long triangles — so that they resemble the underside of a rose.
On the cold plate, set out your rose petals so that they may act as small bowls. You may need to shape them with your fingers. Gently scoop in the minced mussels. Underneath the rose, arrange the triangulated sorrel and chives so that they resemble flowers. Rub the center of the mussels with a touch of lemon zest. If you have the chive blossoms, sprinkle them around the dish. Serve immediately.
These would really stand out on tiny plates, with the stem hanging dramatically over the edge. Alternatively, you can forego the herbs and flowers, and serve them simply in their shell. And while you may miss the gentle creaminess of the rose petal, please keep the lemon, even if you have to do a few drops of juice, instead.