Mussels. Not the gun show in between my shoulder and elbow, although I really should start pumping iron during the off-season. I’m referring to the bivalve molluscs. And speaking of iron, they are nutrient dense with iron, zinc and vitamin B12.
I didn’t love mussels until I visited Les Halles in New York City over 20 years ago. Fans of Anthony Bourdain will know this restaurant was the backdrop to his infamous tell-all best seller, “Kitchen Confidential”. As I recall, Les Halles offered mussels prepared at least 6 different ways. They were served with the most delicious side of pommes frites (French fries). These were among the best fries I’ve ever had. Moules à la Normande was my favorite style. I highly recommend you buy a nice loaf of French bread and find this recipe in his cookbook. You’ll want to soak up all the sauce with the bread or slurp it with a spoon. Although you can search for the recipe on the web, I encourage you to buy the cookbook or borrow it from your local library. You’ll discover so many other recipes which made Les Halles and Tony famous.
Now that I’ve told you where to find one of my most favorite recipes, here’s what you can do with the other half of the ginormous bag of mussels you might have bought at Costco to make Moules à la Normande.
Linguine with Mussels with Tomato Sauce is a fast family meal and a great follow-up to Moules à la Normande.
Serving size: 4
- 2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed, de-bearded and rinsed*
- ¾ pound of linguini or spaghetti
- 1 – 28 ounce can of good quality crushed, diced or whole tomatoes, (roughly crushed if not already crushed)
- 4 slices of think bacon, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large shallot, thinly sliced crosswise
- ¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- ½ cup of dry white wine
- 1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest, freshly grated
- Pinch of salt or sugar (optional)
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. When the water comes to a boil, follow the package instructions for cooking the pasta.
- Using a wide skillet with lid over medium-high heat, sauté bacon until it starts to brown slightly and fat is rendered. Add shallot and continue stirring occasionally until bacon is almost fully cooked. Watch the shallots so they don’t get too brown. Add minced garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir for about 30 seconds. Add white wine. Bring to a boil to cook off some of the alcohol and then add crushed tomatoes. Taste. If the sauce is too acidic, add a bit of sugar to taste. I prefer to avoid adding sugar but sometimes the canned tomatoes are a bit too acidic. You may also want to add salt however I typically find that no additional salt is necessary.
- Add mussels. Cover with lid and cook, giving the pan a good shake a couple of times over 2 to 4 minutes, until the mussels open up. Discard any mussels that do not open up.
- Place cooked and drained pasta in individual pasta bowls or one big platter/pasta serving bowl. Ladle the mussels and tomato sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle with with lemon zest and chopped parsley before serving.
* NOTE: Mussels should be scrubbed well, de-bearded. Farm-raised mussels may already be filtered, scrubbed and de-bearded saving a lot of prep time. If the mussels need to be de-beared, start the cleaning process about an hour before cooking. Begin by creating a iced saline solution. Some sources recommended a 3% saline solution which is similar to the natural environment mussels live in. Apparently tap water can kills mussels.
In a large bowl with water and ice, stir in about 1/4 cup of Kosher salt per 3 cups of water, and 3-4 tablespoons (about 1/4 cup) of flour. The mussels will consume the flour and hopefully expel any sand, ensuring a more pleasant dining experience. Add ice to keep the water nicely chilled. Then add the mussels, tossing out any mussels with broken shells or remain open after you tap them. Sometimes I de-beard the mussels prior to placing them in the ice water solution. Sometimes I de-beard them just before I’m ready to cook because the process of de-bearding (removing the filament) can kill the mussel. It seems that you can get the mussels to release the filament without killing it by pulling the beard towards the “hinged” part of the shell.
Discard any mussels that remain open prior to cooking. A live mussel will close up when touched, then open up after cooking.rinsing the mussels.