One morning of the weekend before last I braved the human maelstrom of Your DeKalb Farmers Market to stock up on Thanksgiving food and noticed some beautiful shellfish in the display case. The Prince Edward Island mussels were not only small, uniform and tightly closed, they were beardless. These mussels had been cultured without the hairy filaments — known as the “beard” — they use to cling to rocks. So they required no cleaning. Right next to them were some equally gorgeous littleneck clams.
Suddenly, I saw lunch.
I picked up two pounds of each, washed them well in a colander, and steamed open with white wine, butter, shallots and garlic with a small pinch of red pepper flake. My wife, kids and I feasted for only about $15. Unfortunately, I forgot to pick up some crusty bread, so we had to make do with toasted whole wheat sandwich bread to sop up the juices. There are worse fates.
If you haven’t tried cooking shellfish at home, it couldn’t be easier. Unlike finfish, it doesn’t leave a strong smell. One note: if you like ordering mussels in restaurants for their buttery broth, you may be disappointed with the thin broth this recipe makes. It’s an easy fix: Pour off some of the broth and reduce it in a pan with a huge gob of butter. Don’t ask about the calories, because I don’t want to know.
Easy Shellfish at Home
Rinse the shellfish well in a colander and throw away any with open shells. Saute the shallots and garlic in the butter until fragrant but not colored. Add the wine and the shellfish, cover, and steam over a high flame for 5-8 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally. Check to see that most of the shellfish have opened and turn off heat. Keep covered while you prepare your serving dishes. If desired, drain off one cup of the shellfish liquor and reduce in a small saucepan by half, adding soft butter to enrich. Use this to douse your shellfish at the table.
Serve immediately with crusty bread and, if you’re in the mood, a sprinkle of chopped parsley.