Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Cocktail Hour, Refined

After " what's for dinner?", our favorite question is always when do the T's arrive on island. Our neighbors just to the east on Cottage Road have been summering on Chebeague for twelve or so years now, and got sucked in to the Webb vortex when their three sons became fast friends with our island brood at the Rec Center pool. The boys have grown into handsome fellows who'll lead the charge in pier jumping and lighting illegal fireworks the night before the Fourth. The oldest is a power hitter on the golf course with an infectious laugh and permanent smile lines around his eyes. Father T. is a district attorney back home, and understandably slides right into island mode the second he steps ashore. He spends most days shaming me on the links, and at Hayden Beach rustling up mussels that his wife Libby serves with drinks most afternoons on their deck overlooking Chandler's Cove.
Jenks Landing"Hayden's Beach"
Clusters of mussels just under the surface of the water
The D.A. bringing up a large cluster of musselsCleaning the musselsWild Coleman Cove mussels
This year, for the first time, the D.A. enlisted me to help forage for bivalves at his favorite spot. I was flattered. We met up at the appointed hour, just before low tide, and drove out to Jenks Landing and waded into the shallow waters of Coleman Cove (Hayden's Beach, the D.A. likes to call it, as most of the property around the cove is owned by George Hayden). Just a few feet from shore, we were practically tripping over clusters of wild mussels clinging to loose stones. It took us about 15 minutes to fill two buckets with large, beautiful shells. When asked later how the job went, my only reply was, "it was like shooting fish in a barrel."
Libby has come up with two ways to prepare wild mussels. The first is a classic recipe with tomatoes, shallots, garlic and white wine.
Mussels in White Wine
  • 3lbs fresh mussels
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped shallots (5 to 7 shallots)
  • 1½ Tbsp minced garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
  • ½ cup drained canned plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine
In a large sauté pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes; then add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, or until the shallots are translucent. Add the tomatoes and the wine. Bring to a boil.

Add the mussels, stir well, then cover the pot, and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until all the mussels are opened (discard any that do not open). With the lid on, shake the pot once or twice to be sure the mussels don't burn on the bottom. Pour the mussels and the sauce into a large bowl and serve hot with crusty bread to soak up the sauce.
Libby's second method was a straight forward grilling and a simple melted butter with garlic and fresh parsley topping.
Grilled mussels
  • 3 pounds cultivated mussels
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 4 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 6 Tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
Fresh mussels grilling over hot coalsGrilled mussels in a serving bowl
Place cleaned mussels directly over hot coals on the Weber. Grill for 8-10 minutes, or until mussels have opened up (discard any that do not open). Meanwhile melt butter in a small saucepan and add the minced garlic and parsley. Keep warm until mussels are cooked. Drizzle melted butter over hot mussels and eat immediately.
There is absolutely nothing better that fresh, wild mussels. They are fat, succulent, salty and tender. I had so many one afternoon, I had to push away from the table come dinner time. There was no way I could possibly eat another thing.
Grilled mussels with garlic herb butter
The D.A. and I are simply incredulous that more people aren't at our beach collecting their own mussels. Seems most folks are satisfied with farmed ones. Fine by us!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

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