Despite having grown up in Southern California, I’ve never had much seafood. My mom always used whole grains and served us vegetables, but grilled cheese and tomato soup, spaghetti, and chicken and broccoli casserole (the one with crushed Ritz crackers on top) were dinner mainstays. It was simple, inexpensive food. I still love those flavors.

When I started reading that seafood is high in minerals and fat soluble vitamins, I was intrigued. What does this stuff cost? How do you cook it? So I started lingering near the seafood counter when I walked through our Whole Foods now and then. I noticed the prices of things. We already eat fish once a week. I wanted something else. The cheapest per pound were the clams and mussels.

So this week, I told the guy at the counter that I didn’t know much about seafood, but was wanting to try clams or mussels. Definitely mussels, he said. Clams have a stronger fishy taste. OK, mussels it is. They’re $3/pound here, and he said to figure 1/2 pound to 3/4 pound per person since they’re not much meat. OK, give me 3 pounds. It’ll take me about 10 minutes, he said. OK, cool.

So the next day, it was time to cook them. I read up on them online. You have to clean them first. This means rinsing them several times to get rid of any grit left, throwing away any that are open if they don’t close when you tap them (gulp!), and removing their “beards.” When I first read they have beards, that alone grossed me out pretty well. What does a beard look like on a mussel? I hadn’t opened the package yet. OK, beards… Beards are this little group of almost wiry, stringy things that hang out the back of the mussel. You can pull them off with your fingers, or cut them with a knife. I did the first couple, and the whole thing about these actually being alive, and pulling some sort of appendage off of them, well…couldn’t do it. I called for backup. Nick did it for me. For the next 20 minutes I got to hear:

“Ooh, this one has a BIG beard!”

“I can’t get this to come off…”

“Um, that was weird.”

Ya know, that kind of thing. I sat on a stool in the kitchen and nursed the baby, while trying not to puke.

Hannah came in and said, “What’s that smell?!?”

They smelled like the ocean, like they’re supposed to. Made me miss CA.

Finally they were all done. I rinsed them one more time, melted butter and olive oil together in a deep saute pan, threw in a couple cloves of chopped garlic and a few capers, added a little chicken stock, and dumped in the mussels. Then I covered the pan with its glass lid, and waited for it to heat up.

Here I was met with another dilemma. These things are alive. I’m about to steam them to death. Whew. Suddenly, for some reason, I remembered how the Native Americans felt about killing their food. They worshiped the animal for providing food for them. I have no intention of worshiping a shellfish, but the idea made sense to me for the first time. As I watched the pan, I really did silently thank those things for providing my family and me with nutrition. That’s what God provided them for. It’s a good thing. This somehow made it okay.

They opened one at a time in the steaming pan, and released their liquid, which smelled wonderful. Before I knew it they were almost all open so I pulled it off the heat. Using a slotted spoon, I put several mussels into each bowl for the four of us, and then spooned the broth with the garlic and capers over the top. I meant to sprinkle Celtic sea salt over that, but forgot. We didn’t miss it.

At the table, I bravely demonstrated how you pull the mussel out of the shell with your fork, and then you eat it, though I’d never tasted them. The girls enthusiastically began eating, and finished off their bowls! I could not believe them. Nick was somewhat hesitant at first, but then went back for second helpings!  They are funny-looking little animals, but very easy to eat and very tender. The butter and broth from the mussels was delicious. We ate a little homemade sourdough rice bread with it, dipping it in the broth. I placed a large bowl in the middle of the table for everyone to toss the shells into. The shells stay attached together but open, and will close if you push them together. So, they became puppets, and they “ate” our forks and the girls laughed a lot at how funny the whole thing was.

Overall, I’d say it was a smashing success! Inexpensive, relatively easy to do, very quick, very nutritious, and my kids loved them! Totally did not expect that. This is the type of thing I would order in a restaurant in a second, but the prep work makes it hard to want to do it again at home. My appetite wasn’t very good after that experience, though they tasted good. I suspect I’d get used to it eventually.



  1. karen said,

    March 2, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    i LAUGHED outloud when I read about the beards….
    Good for you….bravo!!
    As an ex-vegetarian, I still have a hard time doing such things.
    Keep at it…I’m enjoying the blog.


    • Sara Kay said,

      March 2, 2010 at 5:05 pm

      Hi Karen, thanks for reading! 🙂 I’ve never been a vegetarian and STILL can’t do it! Sigh! Glad to have you around!

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