Thursday, January 22, 2015

Brooke Dojny: Marvelous Mussels and a Recipe for Chowder

mussel chowder
Mussel chowder with colorful vegetables
Photo © Scott Dorrance, from 
Dishing Up® Maine
Mussels really are a most marvelous bivalve. Not only are they delicious to eat, but mussels are also plentiful, inexpensive, and, with their gorgeous shiny blue-black shells, beautiful to look at. Farm-raised mussels need only a simple rinse before cooking, but if you happen to have wild mussels, give them a quick scrub with a stiff brush and pull or cut off their wiry beards. Since wild mussels live on top of — and not under — mud flats, they’re not usually in need of soaking, but if they’re muddy, let them soak in a couple of bowls of cold salted water for about an hour, lifting them from one bowl to the other, changing and swishing the water until it is almost clear of sediment.

After harvesting, mussels can live out of salt water in a cold place for several days. Store in the coldest part of the refrigerator (usually the lowest section) on ice. They don’t like sitting in melted water, so drain it off if necessary. Mussels stored in airtight plastic bags will suffocate, so keep them in mesh bags or plastic bags with holes.

If any dead mussels are cooked along with the live ones the whole batch will be tainted. Dead mussels gape open and won’t respond if you knock their shells together or try to squeeze them closed. If they close up somewhat, they’re alive, but any that don’t react at all should be tossed.

This scrumptious mussel chowder is an ideal supper for a cold winter day.

Mussel Chowder with Colorful Vegetables

Pretty vegetables (leeks, carrots, yellow pepper) lend flavor and color to this lovely chowder. Serve it with chowder crackers and a salad of dark winter greens such as baby kale or spinach.

Yield: About 2 quarts (6 main-course servings)

2 cups water
1 cup bottled clam juice
4 pounds mussels, scrubbed (debearded, if necessary; see Note)
6 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups peeled diced all-purpose potatoes (about 1¼ pounds)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 large shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
¾ cup dry white wine
2 cups heavy cream

  1. Bring the water and clam juice to a boil in a large pot. Add the mussels, return to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, until the shells open, 4 to 6 minutes, depending on size. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a bowl, discarding any that do not open. Set aside 16 mussels in their shells and shuck the rest. Pour the mussel broth into a large glass measure and set aside to allow any sediment to settle.
  2. Heat the butter and oil in a large soup pot. Add the potatoes, salt, and pepper, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the carrots, leeks, bell pepper, and shallot, and cook, covered, over low heat until all the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. 
  3. Add the wine, raise the heat to high, and cook briskly until reduced by about one-third, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the reserved mussel broth, leaving any sediment behind, and add the cream and the shucked mussels. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes to blend flavors.
  5. Add the reserved mussels in their shells. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. (The chowder is best when allowed to age for at least 4 hours, or overnight.)
  6. Reheat gently. Ladle into bowls, making sure that each serving contains at least 2 mussels in their shells, and serve.

Note: To debeard mussels, pull out the dark threads that protrude from the shell. Do this just before cooking; mussels die when debearded.

Recipe excerpted from Dishing Up® Maine © 2006 by Brooke Dojny. Photo © Scott Dorrance. All rights reserved.

Brooke Dojny is the author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, including The New England Clam Shack CookbookDishing Up® Maine, and Lobster! (all Storey Publishing). She won the James Beard Award in 1997 for The AMA Family Cookbook, co-authored with Melanie Barnard. Brooke started her culinary career in the 1980s when she worked as a catering directress for Martha Stewart. From 1990 to 2004, Brooke co-authored (with Melanie Barnard) Bon Appetit’s monthly “Every-Night Cooking” column and has written for most of the other major culinary magazines. She lives on the coast of Maine, where she can be found hanging out at clam shacks and farmers’ markets. Her next book for Storey is Chowderland, to be published in 2015.

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