Saturday, March 30, 2013

Check out my mussels

Awhile back -- goodness, nearly two months ago, now that I look at the calendar! -- I hosted my second beer dinner of the season. (I was especially proud of myself for including some Tall, Dark, and Belgian in 3 separate elements: mustard, mussel sauce, and bread.) What is more suited to a beer dinner than mussels steamed in Belgian-style beer? I couldn't tell ya. Plus, it was high time to break in the new cast-iron skillet from Cousin Sonia.... It's hard to go wrong when you start a sauce with some thick-cut, pastured bacon.

I love beer. And bacon. And, lord, do I love mussels. Mind you, I had recently decided that I would NOT be ordering mussels OUT anytime soon, following my reading of the scandalous chapter of Kitchen Confidential that detailed the horrific practices of mussel storage common in the restaurant industry. They sit in the fridge in a bowl of their own excrement, to give you the long and short of it. Ick! As if there were not enough things keeping me up at night. (I had read up on how one should safely and hygienically store live bivalves in the fridge: in a colander with plenty of airflow and a damp towel on top.)

The evening before the dinner, as Kenton and I picked up a couple of pounds of fresh mussels at the local Whole Foods, I got to thinking about clams and mussels that I regularly saw sold live on beds of crushed ice, right out there in the open air. "How it is that they stay alive out of the water, and in my fridge for a day or two?" I mused. Kenton was stumped as well. So were our dinner guests when I posed the question during our beer floats. I pondered, I looked online. Nada. So I called in the experts. I recently got a note back from my friend -- and card carrying seafood aficionado -- Marco, of Taylor Shellfish, with an explanation:

"To answer your question, mussels, clams and oysters are adapted to the intertidal environment. This means that twice a day they are out of the water for a few hours (more or less). Because of this they are very good at sealing their shells tight shut with a small drink of salty water. When you steam mussels with beer this salty “liquor” mixes with the beer and make that tasty broth that soaks into crusty bread so well. (I have recently gone gluten free, so I now only dream about soaking up mussel broth with crusty bread, but alas.)

In any case, the short answer is that the same kinds of shellfish that are well adapted to the intertidal environment also tends to have a long “shelf life,” and if properly handled can last for days out of the water."

Hmmm. Makes sense. Clearly this food educator still has much to learn -- thanks for the explanation, Marco. And happy (almost) Easter, readers! Hope you learned something today. I did.

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