Before I begin recounting my deep-sea adventure, I’d like to share a wonderful moment with you all. Yesterday morning I experienced the first morning-drive sunrise of the season! As a Washingtonian who has been experiencing a lot of gray lately, this was a monumental event. I thought they were at least a few more months out and was presently surprised at about 7:53 when I crested the hill outside of Tumwater on Highway 101. There to greet me was a blinding ray of pure sunshine. Ah the joy of the almost-spring season! It nearly had me grappling for my sunglasses it was so good. Sadly, today is another misty, northwest day. But I did hear birds chirping outside when I left for work, which you know is a sign that spring, and more importantly the Olympia Farmer’s Market, is just around the corner. Ok…on to mussels!

Let me just say that working with fresh-caught mussels is akin to an out-of-body experience. According to the kind gentleman who packed them up for me, they had just been caught that morning and boy were they fresh! Moments like this make me love the Pacific Northwest. I closed my eyes for a moment as I breathed in their salty goodness and was instantly walking along the waterfront in downtown Seattle. I’m sure some things are better than a salty sea breeze, but at that moment I couldn’t think of any.

A funny thing about me: I love getting down and dirty in the kitchen. Not like that! Goodness. What I am referring to is when you are up to you elbows in cookie dough or using your hands to mix eggs into your meatloaf. I believe cooking should involve all the senses and that includes touch. Mussels are no exception. I loved scrubbing those guys down in the sink; cold water running over my numb fingers. It was wonderfully tactual.

Cooking my mussels was also surprisingly easy. Into the pot went water, wine, garlic dried basil and my mussels. Then I tossed the pot onto the stove, turned my dial to medium and stood, with slotted spoon in hand, waiting for them to open up and say hello.

Once done, they were divided into bowls and topped off with a few spoonfuls of that wonderful broth. Who knew a simple mix of wine, basil, garlic and water could cause so much culinary magic? I kid you not my mom drank it straight out of the bowl.

Needless to say, the mussels were a hit. Plump and melt in your mouth tender with just a hint of sea salt. Served along a side of fries (ah Paris) they were simply divine.


Steamed mussels with basil and white wine
A word on prep-work: “de-bearding” mussels is not as scary as it sounds. I was worried when my recipe called for this step in preparation. Mussels have beards? And they (gulp) have to be removed? I casually broached this question with my local seafood guy and he informed me that the process is quite easy. The beard is the fuzzy bit coming out of the shell that attaches the mussels to rocks. (You’ll know it when you see it). All you do is take the mussel in one hand, the beard in the other, and give it a taut yank. It helps if you pull toward the hinge of the mussel and you can use a towel if you need more grip. Toss the little jewels in a bath of cold water, sprinkle with cornmeal, set in the fridge and you’re done! P.s. the cornmeal helps expel all the extra sand. How it happens I do not know. Let’s just call it magic.

You will need:
4 lbs mussels, scrubbed an de-bearded
3 tbsp. cornmeal
1 cup lean fish stock or water (I used water and am glad I did because the broth was plenty flavorful!)
¼ cup dry, white wine (i.e. a Chardonnay we had on-hand)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. minced, fresh basil or 1 tsp. dry basil (I used dry, but would love to try fresh in the summertime)


Place cleaned mussels in a large bowl. Cover with cold water and sprinkle with cornmeal. Let them soak in their cornmeal bath overnight in the fridge.

Once the big day arrives, take your mussels out of the fridge and give each one a little extra attention. In other words, rinse them individually in cold water making sure you’ve removed all the lingering cornmeal bits. Place them in a strainer and give them one final rinse.

Prepare the broth by combining the water (or stock), wine, garlic (your kitchen should smell great by now!) and basil in a 6-8 quart stockpot. Drain the mussels well and add them to the pot.

Cover and let cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes or until they begin to open. Make sure you do not overcook your mussels; they are tender souls. Any mussels which have elected to not join the party (i.e. have not opened) should be tossed.

Transfer your juicy bits of seafood goodness to 4 bowls using a slotted spoon and ladle in the leftover broth. Enjoy your tender morsels immediately…and preferably with french fries.

Yield ~ 4 servings