The Pacific Northwest is known for its rich and historical seafood. Shellfish, in particular, has been a part of our local cuisine for many generations. In fact, archaeological evidence suggests people have been eating mussels for 20,000 years! This unassuming shellfish is low in sodium, high in B vitamins, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, manganese, phosphorous, and potassium.
Mussels are also prime indicators for what’s going on with the health of our oceans. As filter feeders, mussels filter over 17 gallons of seawater per day! This makes them extremely vulnerable to any toxins that are in our local sea waters. Mussels are also at the mercy of ocean acidification, which occurs when carbon emissions are absorbed by the ocean. As the water acidity increases, the mussels have a harder time building a strong protective shell. Luckily, we live in a region (WA, OR, CA) that is taking action on reducing oceanic acidification!
September is one of the prime mussel-eating-months (traditionally months ending in ‘R’ are good for shellfish). To learn more about how to source and cook with local mussels, consider attending our up-coming Belgian Bistro culinary class on Wednesday, September 26, which will feature white wine steamed mussels and crispy salt fries – a classic Belgian pairing using Washington ingredients! If you can’t wait until the end of September to sink your teeth into some delicious Pacific Northwest mussels, check this recipe below from one of my colleagues.
RECIPE: Beer-Steamed Mussels with Cabbage, Leeks and Smoky Bacon
Recipe adapted from Heather Goesch RDN, Food & Nutrition Magazine
3 pounds (1½ kilograms) medium fresh mussels
2 slices dry-cured smoked bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
¼ to ½ teaspoon dried red chili flakes
1¼ cups (10 fluid ounces) pale ale beer (such as Aslan Brewery, Full Sail, or Fremont Brewery), divided
1 small-to-medium-sized savoy cabbage, cored and sliced into thin ribbons
1 small-to-medium-sized leek, light green and white parts only, rinsed well and sliced into ½-inch thick rounds
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
Crusty whole grain bread for serving (optional)
1. Rinse mussels in a large colander under cold water. Use your fingers or a sharp knife to remove any beards (the hairy clumps around the shell). Then, scrub the shells well with your hands or a vegetable brush.
2. In a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet with a lid, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the cooked bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, and set aside. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the skillet.
3. Return the skillet to medium heat. Add chili flakes and stir in ¼ cup of beer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet with a wooden or silicone spoon.
4. When the beer begins to bubble, add leek and cook 2 minutes, or until slightly softened.
5. Turn heat down to medium-low, and add cabbage. Cover skillet with the lid and cook, stirring occasionally until the cabbage is wilted. Taste and season with salt and black pepper if needed.
6. In the meantime, add the remaining 1 cup of beer to a medium-sized saucepan with a lid and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add mussels. Cover and steam, shaking the pan a few times until the shells begin to open, about 5 minutes.
7. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove opened mussels to a large bowl. Cover the pan and continue simmering for another 3 to 5 minutes, transferring mussels to the bowl as they open. After 8 to 10 minutes of cooking, discard and do not eat any mussels that won’t open.
8. When all the mussels are removed from the saucepan, stir about ¾ of the chopped parsley into the beer broth. Taste and season with salt and pepper only if needed.
9. Divide the cabbage-and-leek mixture between four wide bowls, topping each with ¼ of the mussels. Pour some of the broth over top. Then, add the reserved bacon and remaining chopped parsley.
10. Serve at once with crusty bread or your favorite pasta, and a cold local beer.
Amanda Bullat MS RDN CD is a registered dietitian nutritionist with the 21 Acres culinary education program.