You Must Have a Plan
Last month my big city boyfriend from the continent visited my hometown for the first time. I wanted to show him the beauties of the Mediterranean so I made a perfect plan: few days of sailing and I’ll cook what we get from the sea (at least one dinner :)) ). I counted on his spear hunting skills. But… 2 days and 2 small fishes later, I had to change the plan. He needs a static prey and mussels are perfect for that. I knew a good spot to pick them and we made a yummy sailboat diner.
(Small fishing village Trget in Raša bay)
Mussels are very popular in Istria for two reasons: they are easy to find and pick, and easy to prepare.
Most people don’t know it but mussels are high in protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They have exceptional nutritional value.
Where to Find Them
First of all, there are wild and „farmed“ mussels and they are both tasty and safe to consume. There are mussel farms in Istria in Lim bay, Raša bay, Pula bay and in Novigrad sea.
(Mussel farm in Raša bay)
If you are buying mussels always choose a fishmonger’s or store with good refrigerators. A fresh shell is closed or it quickly closes up when you try to squeeze it. If you try to squeeze it with your thumb and forefinger and it stays open it is an old mussel so don’t eat it.
If you’re an adventurer and want to pick your own mussels there are a few things you need to consider.
You can usually find mussels in the sea where the water is not so salty (near the place where the river flows into the sea). Local people usually know some good positions and it’s worth finding them out. Maybe you can start near the mussel farms 😉
Mussels are fuller (meaning more meat) when the moon is rising. And this is true 🙂 If you go and pick them when the moon is declining, you will get “empty” shells. Not literally empty, but with smaller meat inside. So, it’s better to wait for the right time.
(Mussel farm in Raša bay)
It is very hard to pick one by one, so it is usually done with a bigger knife. We usually take a small net or bag, separate the mussels from the stone with the knife and pick them up afterwards.
If you don’t plan to prepare them immediately you can cover them with a wet cloth or you can keep them in a bucket full of sea water. They can stay like this up to 24 hours.
Cleaning the Mussels
First, put the mussels in salty water for 20 minutes. You need to take each shell in your hands, check if it’s ok and clean the exterior with the knife or a small brush.
You need to clean their „beard“, the hairy seaweed with which it was attached to the stone or other shells.
Farmed mussels are usually cleaner because they are grown on the ropes under the sea.
Finally… the Cooking Part
The Mussels in Garlic, Parsley and Tomato Sauce (“Na Buzaru”)
1 kg (2,2 lbs) of mussels
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup of chopped parsley
1,5 dcl (50 oz) of white wine
- Cover the bottom of the pan with olive oil and put it on heat.
- Chop the garlic in food processor, put it in the pan and let it sizzle for 30 seconds.
- Chop parsley in food processor and put it in the pan.
- Add tomato sauce. Don’t add salt because mussels are already salty!
- Add mussels and stir so that the they are well mixed with the sauce. Cover the pot and shake it. Let it boil for a minute.
- When the shells start to open, add white wine. You can add a little bit of water if needed.
- Bring the sauce to a boil and then make a hole in the middle and gradually add bread crumbs while stirring. They will thicken the sauce.
- Let it boil for a few minutes.
- When the mussels are opened the meal is ready. Serve them with bread.
If you have many guests on your dinner, maybe you will prefer to prepare the sauce with a small amount of mussels and steam open the rest of the mussels in a separate pot.
To steam open put the mussels in small amount of water in a big pot. They are cooked when the shells are opened and it takes them just a few minutes. Stir them a little bit or just shake the pot. Take them off the heat because if you leave them they will just overcook.
Bear in mind that when they open they will need more space so don’t fill the pot to the top.
Mix the sauce and the mussels before serving.
Serving and Eating Them
Serve the mussels in deep plates with a separate bowl or plate for distended shells.
You can eat them by holding the shell in one hand and taking the meat out with a fork. Dip it in the sauce before eating it in one bite.
This is the formal way to eat the mussels but it is totally acceptable to eat them straight from the shell.
The more casual way is to eat them by opening the shell with your fingers and sucking the meat out. You can break your first shell in half and use it as a spoon to fill the shells with the sauce before eating.
Put the empty shell in the bowl.
It can get messy if you are not used to eating them. We sometimes prepare them on the boat and jump into the sea right after lunch 🙂
You can also use your empty shell as tweezers to take the “meat” out from other shells. It is not very usual but you can take all mussels out from the shells and eat them all at once in the end.
Don’t forget to dip the bread in the delicious sauce. 🙂