Many people will say that cleaning mussels are a big job. Well, maybe, if you are having lots of guests. I taught evening school for many years and always started with mussels. The students groaned because four persons should make all the mussels for the whole class. If you follow these instructions, it’s not so difficult. You don’t even have to remove the breads. I hope you will try this dish, it is wonderfully delicious.
How to clean mussels
As soon as you get mussels home, put them in a large bowl to begin cleaning the shells. If there are any fibers on the surface of the shells, use a wire scrubber to remove them. Rinse mussels in cold water, put them back in the bowl, cover them with a damp cloth, and refrigerate them until you are ready to use them. The beard – the fibrous strand that comes out from between the halves of the shell and is used by the mussel to attach itself to a rock or other surface – must be taken off right before cooking, since removing it kills the mussel. Take the mussel in one hand and, with your other hand, grab the beard between your thumb and the tip of a spoon and pull hard (maybe it is easier to just use your fingers). If you are serving the mussels without their shells, don’t brother bearding them before cooking them. Once shells are open and mussels are cooked, it’s much easier to remove the beard. Any cooked mussels that don’t open are dead and should be discarded.
Mussel Soup with Caramelized Onions
2 tbsp. butter
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
2-3 lbs. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
½ cup dry white wine
1 tbsp. oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
½ cup chopped onions
½ cup tomato puree
2½ cups sour cream
2 cups fish bouillon
1 tsp. saffron threads
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices of toasted white bread
To caramelize onions, melt butter in a medium sauté pan over low heat. Add onions and sauté until caramel brown. This takes about 30 minutes. Don’t cheap or the onions will be hard. They should be soft.
To make soup, combine mussels and wine in a large, heavy nonreactive pot over high heat. Cover and cook, shaking the pot occasionally, until mussels open, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain, reserving the mussel liquor. Shell the mussel. Strain the reserved mussel liquor through a fine-mesh sieve.
In a large, nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, add oil, garlic and chopped onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved mussel liquor, tomat puree, sour cream and bouillon. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, add saffron and simmer for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, toast the bread and place in 4 warmed soup bowls. Add shelled mussels and caramelized onions to the soup and bring just to a boil. Divide the hot soup and mussels among the bowls and serve.