Belgian Mussels with Ale

Mussels are a shellfish that don’t get nearly enough praise.  Not only are they delicious, they are also incredibly nutritious, affordable, and sustainably farm raised.  With only a handful of ingredients, mussels can go from fridge to table in under 15 minutes.  They are just as high in protein as red meat, but way lower in fat, saturated fat, and calories.  Mussels are loaded with healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, B Vitamins, and essential minerals.  And, I can always find live mussels in the grocery store for four to five dollars per pound (but there are several mussel farms in Washington State, so I’m sure they aren’t as easy to locate in other parts of the country).

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mussels growing wild on a rock

Don’t confuse shellfish farming for fish farming.  Farmed fish (especially salmon) pollute the environment, consume vast quantities of fish meal. threaten wild fish, and contain contaminants.  Farmed shellfish, on the other hand, are incredibly low impact.  Because farmed mussels filter feed from seawater, no fish meal or oils are required to feed them.  Diseases are rare, so no chemicals or drugs are required to treat them.  They are grown almost identically to how they would naturally grow in the wild and this makes them incredibly healthy and environmentally friendly.

But enough about that, lets get down to cooking them!  Cooking mussels is ridiculously easy. They only take a few minutes  and they let you know the minute they are done (they open up).  This is a traditional Belgian recipe using Belgian ale, but honestly, any type of good quality beer would work fine.  The beer really compliments the brininess of the mussels in this recipe, so don’t leave it out!  We bought a big bottle so we could drink what was left with our dinner.

This is the bottle of beer I used for this recipe

This is the bottle of beer I used for this recipe

Belgian Mussels with Ale

  • 3-4 pounds of live mussels
  • 3 TBSP butter
  • 1 medium shallot, chopped
  • 1 bulb of fennel, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 TBSP fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cup Chimay, or other Belgian ale
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 TBSP fresh parsley, chopped

Soak the mussels in a large pot or bucket of water for about 20 minutes prior to cooking to purge them of any sand, then rinse them, scrub them, and remove their “beards,” the hairy parts that are sticking out of their shells.  If any mussels are opened at this point, throw them away.  Healthy live mussels will be shut tight.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet or stock pot (one that has a lid) over medium heat.  Add shallots, fennel, salt and thyme and saute until soft and translucent (3-5 minutes).  Pour in the ale and bring to a boil.  Add the mussels and cover with the lid.

Cook covered for about 5 minutes, or until mussels begin to open.  Remove the lid and remove any opened mussels with a slotted spoon and place them in a separate bowl.  As every mussel opens, remove it immediately.  After ten minutes, throw away any mussels that haven’t opened.  Add another tablespoon of butter and some pepper to the sauce left in the pan and raise the heat to medium-high, stirring constantly until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 3-5 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir in the fresh parsley.

Pour the sauce from the pan over the mussels and serve immediately with a loaf of crusty bread.

mussels with ale 2

This recipe serves 4 to 8 people, depending on how many other dishes you are serving

Cheers to this lovely little bivalve for being so healthy and delicious!  It was a huge hit with my family and our dinner guests.

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Eat More Seafood Part 2: You Can Afford It!

In my post, “Eat More Seafood Part 1: What to Buy”, I gave some shopping advice for finding the most sustainable and healthy seafood available.  Now I will give some tips on working seafood into your shopping list and shopping budget.  A reader recently commented , “My gut feeling is that people don’t eat enough fish because they HAVEN’T eaten much fish. It’s just not part of their dietary vernacular.” (read her full comment under my Eat Seafood page in the top bar of this page)

In order for us to eat seafood more regularly, we first need to change the way we perceive it.  Even with a fisherman for a husband and a freezer full of fish, I still tend to think of seafood as a “special occasion food” instead of an “every day food.”  I have to force myself to thaw out a fillet for lunch instead of saving it for when we have guests for dinner. Seafood doesn’t have to be a luxury food and it doesn’t have to be expensive either.

FROZEN OR CANNED:  Of course availability and prices vary greatly depending on what area of the country you live.  If you live on one of the coasts, you probably have access to fresh local seafood.  But no matter where you live, if you are on a budget, buy it frozen or canned.  Seafood is usually processed right off the docks, so chances are the frozen or canned stuff is fresher than some of the “fresh” stuff on display at the seafood counter anyway.

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VARIETIES: I was checking out the frozen seafood at my local grocery store yesterday and spotted bags of fillets of cod and tilapia.  Both were cheap, and both are sustainable.  Some other cheap choices are rockfish, rainbow trout, squid, pollock, clams (live or canned), mussels, canned salmon, canned tunacatfish, sardines, herring… I’ll stop there.  Just compare the cheap options at the store with your sustainable seafood guide of choice to make sure you aren’t supporting bad fishing or farming practices.

SOURCES: I’d recommend checking out any local seafood markets first, but if you don’t have any in your area, Trader Joe’s has a good selection of frozen and canned seafood (just bring along your pocket guides, because a lot of their seafood is NOT sustainable).  If you have COSTCO stores in your area, they are another good option, and they just pledged to only sell sustainable seafood!  I also just read that Safeway is starting a sustainable seafood program, with all sustainable seafood by 2015.  Whole Foods Markets are also a good choice for buying quality sustainable seafood, but you might have to pay a little more.  You can also order seafood online, like canned wild Alaska salmon from www.purealaskasalmon.com.

SUBSTITUTION: Seafood is a protein.  Think of it the same way you think of chicken or beef or pork.  You probably have some type of meat on your grocery list, so switch out one type of meat for some type of seafood.  If you usually purchase pork chops, instead buy a fillet of cod.  Buy some squid (calamari) to go on your spaghetti instead of meatballs.  Top your caesar salad with a can of salmon instead of grilled chicken.  Don’t think of it as adding on to your grocery list, think of it as substituting.  I guarantee that you will feel healthier, your budget shouldn’t be affected, and you will have  peace of mind knowing that you are eating a super-healthy, sustainable protein that was NOT raised on a crowded feed lot.

♦My next and last post in this little series will be advice for making quick, simple meals with the seafood you bring home.  I’ll share some of the recipes I make for my family on a regular basis, and if anyone else out there has any recipe ideas for this next post, please share!♦

How to Eat More Seafood: An Introduction

At this point, I think most of us are aware of the benefits of eating seafood…  lean protein, omega 3 fatty acids, good for your heart/brain/eyes, etc.  I hear it all the time: “Eat more seafood!”  To really emphasize the point, the US government (Department of Health and Human Services) just released their updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 in which they recommend everyone increase their seafood intake from an average of 3.5 ounces a week to at least 8 ounces a week.

Larkyn is thinking about it, but he's a little intimidated...

So, we know we should be eating more, but it’s easier said than done and I see three major obstacles preventing Americans from eating more seafood.

  1. It’s hard to know what types of seafood to buy.  We are constantly bombarded by the media with news of fish stocks collapsing, mercury laden something-or-other, studies and “experts” contradicting each other, blah, blah, blah.  It is confusing and intimidating.
  2. I hear a lot of people complaining that they can’t afford to eat seafood.  Some types of seafood can be expensive, and that leads people to think of it as a luxury item as opposed to an everyday food item.
  3. Many people just don’t know what to do with it.  I am married to a fisherman and still get stumped trying to come up with something the whole family will like.  Nothing spells discouragement like a dry overcooked bland fish.

This is my take on the situation, but I realize I have way more to say (and advice to give) about each of these three points – more than I could fit in one blog post.  So, I will break it up into three separate posts, one for each issue.

He's going for it!

In the meantime, I would like to hear some other opinions on the matter.  Why do you think Americans don’t eat enough seafood?  How can we switch our mindset into thinking of seafood as a basic protein like chicken or beef?

(hint: click the subscribe button on the top/right side of the page and you will get an email every time I post something new)