Mussels Holiday (a festive mussels mariniere)

My husband refers to me as his Favorite Four-Year-Old when I get all giddy and excited about things that set my heart aflutter. I make no apologies for it. It makes him smile. It makes me smile. And those “giddy fits” force us to stop and appreciate the beauty of the moment – something I think we all need to do more often.

We visited our beloved Bayfield recently, and as if our time there wasn’t soulfully restorative enough, some of our dearest sailing and local friends were also in town, so it turned into something of a seasonal celebration. As with any respectable homecoming, we enjoyed plenty of storytelling, sipping and supping.

Mussels Holiday | @BaconFatte BaconFatte.com

The Four-Year-Old definitely came out when she saw her favorite little town all aglow with sparkling lights and holiday decorations. And when she sat down at a beautiful table surrounded by friends, all bets were off! {These are definitely a few of her most favorite things.}

There are a lot of really wonderful restaurants in Bayfield – and several that we consider among our favorites – so it’s not always easy to decide where to go. But after the busy sailing and Apple Fest seasons, when things quiet down considerably up there on the Big Water, most places close for a long winter’s nap.

All except for The Fat Radish – a quaint spot that had been on our “Must Try” list for some time. We had heard many good things about the food, so we were pretty excited to finally get there.

Mussels Holiday | @BaconFatte BaconFatte.com

It’s quintessentially Bayfield: Soulful and quietly sophisticated in that wonderful when-you-really-know-what-you’re-doing-you-don’t-have-to-shout-it-from-the-mountaintops kind of way. I can only imagine that the eclectic décor – and every perfectly mismatched chair within it – is filled with stories and local ties. The staff had strung lights and dangled ornaments to welcome guests with their own brand of holiday spirit… Not too much… Just the right amount. It was wonderfully warm and inviting. We would have loved to have stayed all night.

Being the seafood lovers that we are, we were thrilled to see quite a few fish and seafood dishes on the menu. And not just basic stuff – we’re talking dishes with respectable chops; refreshingly unpretentious but with appreciable sophistication. Of all the items, the spicy mussels really caught our attention.

And for good reason! The broth was rich but not too heavy, and there were bright, tangy, spicy flavors that we hadn’t had before with similar dishes. It was all pretty righteous and we couldn’t get enough!

When Dan, one of the restaurant’s owners, came to our table with a glass of wine in hand to greet his dinner guests (the mark of a truly gracious and wonderful restaurateur in my opinion), the Four-Year-Old asked him for some hints to his recipe. Much to her delight, he was all too happy to share.

When I made our home version of Dan’s mussels for the first time, I used black-shelled PEI Mussels – and they were wonderful! But when we decided we had to share this special dish with our family for the holidays, I called our favorite seafood market to see if they would have New Zealand Mussels (which is what The Fat Radish’s dish featured) for the occasion. Knowing that New Zealand Mussels are a bit larger and more colorful, I thought they’d be especially pretty for the holidays.

Fortunately, they were getting a limited quantity, so I put my order in and patted myself on the back for actually being organized enough to plan ahead. And when our favorite seafood market posted a photo of the gorgeous emerald-hued shells I was only a few days away from enjoying, you better believe the aforementioned Four-Year-Old did a major happy dance. Just look at those beauties!!

Coastals Greenlips-M

We’ll definitely be dining at The Fat Radish again to enjoy Dan’s spicy mussels (and the rest of his admirable menu), but for now, this is our nod to his inspiring dish… And to Dan, and everyone like him who clearly loves what they do… And to all those fabulously heart-warming occasions enjoyed ‘round a table full of good friends, good food, and light, love and laughter.

Mussels Holiday | @BaconFatte BaconFatte.com

Enjoy!

 

Mussels Holiday (a festive mussels mariniere)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Mussels Holiday is a festive version of moules marinières. It’s bright, beautiful & undeniably celebratory – perfect for the holidays!
Recipe from:
Serves: 2 - 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds fresh PEI or New Zealand Mussels*
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 Cipollini onions or shallots (about 4 tablespoons), minced
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest (about ½ fresh lime)
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
  • ½ cup white wine (for the broth… + another ½ cup to sip)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons caper brine (juice)
  • ¼ cup sliced, pickled jalapenos
  • ½ cup roasted red peppers, sliced & chopped
  • ½ - 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or more to taste
  • A big handful of fresh Italian parsley (½ cup or more), chopped for garnish
  • 1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and sliced in rings for garnish, optional
Preparation
  1. In a large, lidded skillet or stock pot, add the butter and melt over medium heat.
  2. Then, add the minced onions and lime zest and sauté until onions are tender and translucent.
  3. Add the lime juice, white wine, and chicken broth, and allow to simmer (uncovered) for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. While the broth is simmering, clean and debeard the mussels.
  5. Then, add capers, caper brine, jalapenos, red peppers, and crushed red pepper to the broth (reserve a little of each for garnish if you like), and stir.
  6. Next, gently add the mussels to the pot and cover for about two minutes. Lift the lid and check the mussels; transfer opened mussels to a covered dish and keep warm. Cover the skillet or pot again, and repeat until all the mussels have opened. Discard any mussels that remain closed after 5 – 6 minutes of steaming.
  7. With the cooked mussels “resting” in a warm, covered dish, turn the heat up to high and boil the broth until it reduces by roughly half.
  8. To serve, place the cooked mussels in bowls and ladle the steaming broth over them.
  9. Serve immediately with the best crusty baguette you can find and plenty of crisp, lightly chilled sauvignon blanc.
Cook's Notes:
*You may need to adjust the weight and quantity of the mussels for the number of servings you need. New Zealand Mussels are generally larger than PEI Mussels, so there will be fewer shells per pound. Plan on ½ pound per person for an appetizer course, or 1 pound+ per person for a main course.
*The fact that “salt and pepper to taste” isn’t included in this recipe is intentional. This dish is definitely not for the meek - it’s got plenty of briny badness and peppery pluck, but you can certainly adjust levels and quantities to suit your preferences!
*If you're using Greenlip New Zealand Mussels, please be sure to check out the "Update" below with added information on Greenlips!

 

Mussels Holiday with PEI Mussels

Mussels Holiday | @BaconFatte BaconFatte.com

Mussels Holiday with Greenlip New Zealand Mussels

Mussels Holiday | @BaconFatte BaconFatte.comAnd because we always love learning something new, here are a few tidbits we’ve picked up along the way!

If you search for information on Greenlip New Zealand Mussels, you’ll find all kinds of information about their health benefits and the fact that they’re popular as health supplements. You’ll also find plenty of recipes for them, but you may not find much about what makes them different from your “everyday” mussels until you get them in your kitchen. For example:

As you can see, they’re much larger — 3-5 times larger — than most of the black-shelled PEI mussels that we’re  commonly used to seeing [here in the Midwest]. If it were ever appropriate to compare the flavor and texture of mussels to chicken, it would be now. These guys are very meaty – perfect for a main course. And they’re exceptionally flavorful, too, so they can stand up to bolder ingredients.

They’re also “heartier” than most smaller varieties of mussels. One seafood authority actually referred to them as “seriously bad ass mussels” when I inquired about how these mussels behaved compared to others when I got them home and began got them ready for their brief stay in my refrigerator.

{Behaved?}

Yes. Most of what we’ve heard or read about ensuring the freshness of mussels and clams — specifically the points about tapping open shells to get them to close, and discarding any that remain open — doesn’t necessarily apply to Greenlips. You can tap them all you want… They don’t close until they want to. And they usually seem to want to when you start scrubbing them. So, judge their freshness and activity after they’re clean and ready to be cooked.

They generally have more barnacles and things on their shells, and not all of it will come off. Just scrub them well and cook them as you normally would.

Last, but not least, and after much debate over whether or not to share this at the risk of scaring people away from these delicious creatures, I’ve decided to share this little item because, after all, not everything in life – or in the kitchen – is perfectly pleasant.

And in my humble opinion, being informed and prepared definitely sets the stage for a better experience overall.

So… Greenlip Mussels, as well as other types of mussels, clams, oysters, etc., sometimes have little “friends” in their shells. Those friends are called pea crabs, and while they’re considered a delicacy to some, if you’re unaware of them, they can be off-putting when they catch you off guard.

Pea crabs are very small – usually about ½” or so in size. If you’re preparing raw oysters, for example, you’ll definitely notice them when you open the shell. If you’re cooking clams the way we did here, you probably won’t see them until the shells begin to open wide during the steaming process.

Pea crabs are usually off-white or pale peach in color. It’s my understanding that the crabs don’t cause any harm to their hosts. It’s also my understanding that pea crabs are not harmful to ingest, but we generally prefer to discard them as do most restaurants and chefs.

Mussels Holiday | @BaconFatte BaconFatte.com

So there you have it – an new-to-me, and mostly fabulous, adventure in seafood!

 

I’d love to hear if you’ve tried this recipe and how you liked it! Let me know by commenting here on the blog, and sharing it on FacebookPinterestInstagramTwitter, and/or Google+… Make sure to hashtag #baconfatte or tag @baconfatte!

The best things in life are meant to be shared!
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5 comments… add one
  • Cathleen @ A Taste Of Madness January 7, 2016, 8:23 pm

    Haha, I think I have the same reaction when I get excited 🙂 This spread looks so good! I would love to try preparing mussels!

    Reply
    • Michele Phillips January 15, 2016, 3:43 pm

      Hi Cathleen! I’m so glad I’m not the only one… Life’s too short to be serious all the time. 🙂 Hope you get a chance to try preparing mussels – they’re absolutely delicious! Speaking of delicious, I just checked out your Easy Cinnamon Melts recipe and I think they have to happen this weekend! Yum!

      Reply
  • Richard Phillips February 4, 2017, 11:40 pm

    Yep, my favorite four year old. Ever since we met, Michele’s excitement at things that are ‘beautiful’ is similar to watching the reaction of children as they marvel at the fascination of the world. Just the existence of some nice fruit on the counter top, she will see that in the sunlight and remark how beautiful it is. So something that I would not even notice, makes me take a second look at what’s around me and appreciate what a wonderful world we live in…not to different than when a child marvels at the world they live in. That’s a perspective that most ‘adults’ are missing. I’m a lucky dude!

    Reply

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