My self-guided culinary journey resulted in fatality two weeks ago when I suffocated three pounds of live mussels. Although I do not feel quite as guilty as perhaps Elliot Spitzer feels at this exact moment, my moral compass has been disjointed. I felt bad that my faux pas resulted in the unnecessary death of three pounds of mussels. Or maybe I’m just more upset that I blew $18 on mussels, $15 on saffron not to mention the $20 bottle of wine for what I had hoped would be a culinary masterpiece. (Actually, the $20 bottle of wine did not go to waste!) My excuse, total inexperience.
I had been looking forward to preparing mussels for some time. I read several tips about cleaning, removing sand and ensuring that the mussels were tightly sealed shut prior to steaming in order to avoid certain foodborne illness. I clearly got the message that eating mussels can be a bit dicey! In fact, I only finally got the nerve to try my hat at preparing mussels after watching Ina Garten prepare Moules à la Marinière on a recent episode of Barefoot Contessa. I distinctly remember Ms. Garten pulling a clear plastic bag full of mussels from her refrigerator. Despite my taking copious notes throughout the episode, I do not remember whether she commented on the storage of mussels. One small hint: that would not be in a clear plastic bag wrapped in butcher paper and stored on the top shelf of your refrigerator for over 24 hours.
It was Sunday night - Oscar night. What a perfect evening for an Oscar party à deux of mussels, white wine and fresh sourdough bread. A week before the intimate affair, I placed an order with my local butcher for three pounds of mussels to be delivered Friday. I was running late, so I waited to pick up my order the following Saturday morning. (In case it is unclear, this would be my first mistake.) When I arrived at the market, my butcher handed me my order, which was already sealed. I was asked if I would like to take a look at the mussels, to which I stupidly responded, “no, that’s okay.” (Mistake No. 2) I returned home, put the package in my refrigerator and did not bother to look at the mussels until Sunday afternoon, which was over 24 hours later. (Mistake No. 3)
When I opened the package, I noticed that some of the mussels were open and the scent of sea water was very strong – looking back, maybe too strong? As I further studied the package, I noticed more and more mussels had already opened. I thought, hmmm, maybe they just need to be soaked and the shells will close back up. Seriously. So I proceeded to soak the dead mussels in water with flour to remove sand. An hour later, there was very little sand in the bottom of the pot. I discovered why – the sand was in the clear plastic bag that they had been sitting in for over 48 hours! One-by-one I removed the mussels from the pot to find all but seven of the shells open. It was a holocaust!
We threw out the mussels and I went online to find out what I did wrong. There it was in black and white and color: you are supposed to remove the mussels from the plastic bag and store them in a damp towel in the refrigerator so that they can breathe!
I feel like I have no culinary common sense.
The night was not an entire loss. My husband made a delicious chili, which we enjoyed with cold beer. (I think he was relieved that the mussels didn’t work out!)