For some people (me) it’s difficult to envision slowly killing a living, breathing creature by boiling them in a cauldron of hot water or steam until their flesh turns red from the heat or their once-closed shells hesitantly crack open after a two-minute struggle to protect it’s vulnerable insides. It’s barbaric! It’s savage! And it’s also how we kill millions of lobsters, crayfish, mussels, crabs, oysters and other fresh- and saltwater-dwelling creatures every year. I’m no vegetarian, and don’t have qualms with eating meat that has been humanely cared for and killed, but there is something about boiling an animal alive that gives me the willies. Afterall, we don’t throw chickens in the oven still clucking, (believe me, we know after one life-changing experience), and we don’t throw live pigs on the fire before eating bacon (though my Philippines-born grandfather will tell you that’s how it’s done in his birth country), so why is it so acceptable to engage in this horrible, savage form of murder on our exoskeleton-bearing, aquatic invertebrates brothers? I had to do some research.
Friends Eric and Lisa invited us over for a mussel-making experience a few weeks ago. My hesitance to participate in the mass murder of dozens of shellfish was an issue, but ultimately I made the decision to suck it up, ignore the hypocrite inside that begged to indulge instead in a mammal killed weeks earlier, far away from my safety zone—and just go with it. We picked up some french fries from the beloved P.Terry’s and headed over to the Lighthouse for our first tryst with steamed mussels.
Step 1 | Clean ’em and shave ’em
As my bearded friend Eric said, “Unlike people, mussels are not better with beards.” The fuzzy beard of byssal threads, or fibers emerging from the mussel’s shell, had to be identified and removed before the execution could begin. We also picked through the bunch, looking for any mussels whose shells were opened—a no-no if you want the best mussel-eating experience that money can buy. And of course there was the rinsing, scrubbing and removing of any barnacles that we didn’t want making their way into our steamed mussel stew.
Step 2 | Prep the broth
In our case, the seasonings we used to enhance the mussel flavor was an array of fresh herbs (parsley and thyme), tomatoes, and the tried-and-true flavor-making ingredients of salt, pepper, butter, olive oil and white wine.
Step 3 | Let the execution begin
Once everything was prepared, the next step was pretty simple–combine and cook. Very little water is actually used in the steaming process because, when heated, the mussels open up, releasing their own delectable juices that blend with the tomato/white whine/herb mixture. Too much water and I’m told the flavor is lost.
Step 4 | Relax and literally dig in
Once on the table and surrounded by hand-cut french fries, fresh salad and homemade bread, the mussels didn’t seem as intimidating as I had envisioned. Onto the plate went each of the sides as they were passed about the table. And when no other side options were left, I made room for the mussels on my plate. Into the shell opening went my fork, releasing the meat from its encasing. It emerged with the unfamiliar, opaque blob of protein that is the mussel’s essence. It went into my mouth, onto the buds of my tongue and down my throat. With each movement of my jaw as I chewed, I processed the experience, challenged my preconceived notions of mussel murder, and made my conclusion: steamed mussels are sinfully delicious.
…Perhaps instead of a geyser of death, I can conveniently consider the cauldron more of a shellfish sauna.