Mussels are a favorite staple because they don’t require a lot of prep work, they’re loaded with flavor, and you can use pretty much anything you’ve got in your fridge and pantry to personalize the meal. Cheese, garlic, black bean paste, fresh herbs, tomatoes, Thai chilies…the sky’s the limit! For this recipe, we decided to keep things simple and bake mussels with a cheese and bread crumb topping. This would better showcase the Mediterranean mussels we were using, and highlight their dense, plump meats.
The most common species of mussel found in the US is the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis), but the word is slowly getting out about the Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis). Mediterranean mussels are larger than blue mussels, with noticeably beefier meats. They’re also unique in that they’re reverse spawners; unlike blue mussels and most other shellfish which spawn in the summer, Mediterranean mussels spawn in the winter. That means that they’re at their peak flavor and texture in the summer, just as blue mussels are spawning and becoming thin. All the more reason to eat seasonally!
Mediterranean mussels are native to the Mediterranean Sea (no surprise there) and can also be found along the Atlantic Coasts of France and the British Isles. In the US, they are farmed in the Pacific Northwest and are green-rated as a sustainable choice. Element Seafood offers rope-cultured Mediterranean mussels, which means the mussel is suspended in water and never touches the ocean bottom, ensuring that there’s no sand or grit in the product. It also means the mussel shells will be clean and require no scrubbing.
These mussels are perfect for baking because they fill their shells fully, giving you that much more surface area to coat with a crunchy topping! In mere minutes, you’ll have an elegant appetizer ready to serve at your next dinner party.
Baked Mediterranean Mussels
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
2.5 lbs Mediterranean mussels, cleaned and debearded
1/2 c beer or white wine
1.5 c breadcrumbs
1/2 c Parmesan cheese (or any other hard Italian cheese), grated
1/4 c olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
lemon wedges to garnish
Rinse and debeard the mussels by tugging at the black threads protruding from the sides of the mussels. The beards, or abyssal threads, are used to hold the mussel to the rope, and can be used to move as well. You should be able to remove the beard with a firm tug; try not to yank the entire mussel meat out of its shell! Discard any mussels that are already open.
Put the debearded mussels in a large pot and add the beer. Turn the heat to medium-high, and steam the mussels until they have just opened.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Shuck the mussels and remove half of the shell. You can use kitchen shears to help cut them apart. Place the mussels on a baking tray. Here, you can see how Mediterranean mussels fill their shells to the edge!
In a mixing bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, cheese, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Add about a tablespoon of topping to each mussel, and pat the topping down to form a tight crust. Put the tray in the oven and bake until the topping is golden brown, about 7-10 minutes.
Viola, the finished product is ready to serve!