Each Saturday, I have found myself leaving the farmers market with a bag of mussels. They are a small and elegant shellfish native to this area. For generations, the Native Americans ate them with caution; they are very easily contaminated by red tide, an algae bloom that can make mussels dangerous to eat. These days, there is much care taken by farmers and gatherers, as well as regulations imposed by the government to prevent any accidental fatalities.
And each Saturday, with my bag of mussels, I wonder what I can do differently with them. So, this week, I pickled them. Using a Portuguese recipe from the coastal town of Aveiro, I found that the simple ingredients combine with age to make a delectable and unusual appetizer.
You really must let these mussels soak for a few days. The clove and bay leaf will sweeten the brine and the mussels will infuse the whole thing with their oceanic goodness. The flavor transformation here is magical.
For the Marinade
- 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 bay leaves, torn
- 2 cloves, broken in half
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
Mix together the vinegar with the dry ingredients, salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in the oil. Let it sit out a day. Stir every once in a while.
For the Mussels
- 1 lb. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- Oil for frying
After cleaning the mussels, put them into a dry pot and cover. Turn the heat on high and open them. After a couple minutes, remove them from the juice. Remove each mussel from its shell and set on a towel to dry. Reserve some shells for stuffing.
Once they are dry, heat a skillet with oil over medium heat. When hot, add the mussels and fry briefly, until their color darkens. Remove and set on a cloth to soak up any oil.
When they are cool and dry, drop them into the marinade. Allow them to sit in the frige for three days. Fold them at least once a day. Make sure your fridge isn’t too cold, otherwise the mussels may get a little tough.
To Return the Mussel to its Shell
- Mussel shells
- Pickled mussels
- Fleur de sel
Pull the mussels from the frige. Allow them to come warm on the counter for a few hours in the marinade.
Poke a toothpick through each one and return to the shells. Garnish with fleur de sel (or coarse sea salt). I dropped on a bit of porcini olive oil I had leftover from the grilled sardines; the savory mushroom complimented the tangy sweetness of the mussel.
Serve at room temperature.