I don't know when I started to love mussels, but it's my favorite meal in the summer. Some might be intimidated to make them, but mussels are a super easy, quick dinner to make. The most labor-intensive part is the cleaning process, but it's not hard.
The key to preparing mussels (as with all seafood, really) is to make sure they're fresh. Now, I don't know how fresh they can be, getting PEI mussels in northern Virginia, but I've had pretty good luck at our local Wegman's. In a 2-lb. bag of mussels, nearly all are good (I think I had to throw out 6 or 7).
Plus, this dinner doesn't require a whole lot of ingredients, most of which I usually have on hand (why, yes, of COURSE I have an open bottle of white wine...).
Here's what you need:
2 lbs mussels (for 4 people)
one shallot, chopped fine (you can add or substitute 2 cloves of garlic if you want)
approx 1/4 cup white wine (two good glugs)
1/4 cup water
a handful of fresh thyme
approx. 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (flat leaf or curly, whatever you've got)
Salt and pepper (optional)
a squeeze of fresh lemon (optional)
This picture doesn't show the thyme, because I hadn't run outside to get some, yet, so...Sorry.
Anyway, while my pan heated up, I cleaned the mussels. The ones I buy are actually pretty clean. All you really need to do is pull out the beard, if they have them, but you might also want to scrub the outside with a soft brush to get any sand/dirt that might be stuck on the shell. Also, sometimes I'll use the flat part of a paring knife to help me leverage the beard out (trapping the beard between my right thumb and knife blade), because they can be really tough to pull out. This is what the beard will look like:
If any of your mussels are open when you clean them, and they don't shut if you gently squeeze them, then throw them out. You do NOT want to eat that. On the other hand, you also don't want to eat any mussels that don't open once you've steamed them. Food for thought, that.
Anyway, here's an example of what you need to throw out during the cleaning process.
Sorry for the picture quality. My little point-and-shoot can be a little ornery sometimes, and it wouldn't focus on the stupid shell I had in my hand...but I digress.
Once you've cleaned your mussels, set them aside for the moment and turn your attention to the pan heating on the stove. Add 2 Tbsp of butter and your chopped up shallots. Let those cook a bit until the shallots are soft (about 3 minutes). Add water, wine, and thyme and let that bubble up, then turn down to a simmer (surface of the liquid should ripple but not have lots of bubbles).
Dump all the mussels into the pan, then cover with a tight-fitting lid. Let the mussels steam for approximately 8 minutes.
You might want to stir them around about 4 minutes in, just to get the mussels that were on top down to the bottom and into the cooking liquid for a couple of minutes). After 8 minutes, check to see if the mussels have opened up. If most of them are open (remember, don't eat mussels that haven't opened after they've been steamed), take the mussels off the heat. Sprinkle with parsley, add salt and pepper to taste, if you like (I think the mussels add their own sea-saltiness, so we didn't add any) and a squirt of lemon if you can't have seafood without lemon. We forgot to add it and I prefer that hit of acid, but my husband said he thought it tasted great without it. :-)
Be sure to serve the mussels with plenty of bread (I prefer a baguette) to sop up the tasty cooking liquid. That's my favorite part. I also served them with a side of a simple chopped vegetable salad (green pepper, tomato, cucumber, parsley drizzled with olive oil and a little salt and pepper), but traditionally, mussels are served with french fries (moules-frites).