Fancy Fish: My mussels in tomato sauce.

by cookingbrains09


There is little more fitting to a dark winter night than a meal shared with family or friends. A big bowl in the centre of an even bigger table from which everyone takes as much as they like. Splashes of tomato sauce covering plates, table and diners. Happy chatting and deep glasses of wine. Sharing a meal is one of the simplest ways to connect with other people. No fancy plates or clever sauces needed. With my mussels in tomato sauce all you have to provide is a lot of napkins. Your guests will eat the mussels straight from the shell, which is half the fun. The slurping and sucking drops of tomato sauce out of the shells is the other half. However elaborate you think making mussels could be, forget about it. All you need is three ingredients, a large pot and 20 minutes of time. Cooking for other people has never been easier.

Winter is the perfect time to eat mussels. A few days after Christmas one of my uncles always comes over and drops off a huge bag of fresh black ocean nuggets at my parent’s doorstep. The ritual is relatively simple: the mussels are cooked or rather steamed over a mix of carrots, onions, leeks and white wine until they open. White bread is dipped into the sauce and the mussels eaten staight from the shells. This is the way my family has been eating mussels ever since I or they can remember. My reply upon the rhetorical “How are you going to cook them?” from grandmother’s and uncles received mixed reviews, ranging from “That seems… unconvential…” to “What a waste!”. But I swear, I have yet to meet anyone who didn’t thoroughly enjoy my mussels in tomato sauce. A hearty tomato sauce, with just enough garlic to up the game and parmesan to bring additional creaminess. Usually no seasoning is required. Each mussel brings a few drops of the best and clearest ocean water with itself, for extra salitness and the meat is surprisingly spicy.

My mussels in tomato sauce

Sieved tomatoes

Wash the mussels in a big bowl of cold water. Allow them to rest in there for a few minutes. Discard of any mussels that are not closed (or won’t closed if a little pressure is added). This bit is crucial: no open mussels should be cooked, to avoid food poisoning. If you are in doubt, get rid of the candidate anyways. If there is a visible crack in the mussel – get rid of it too. Rather risk loosing a perfectly edible mussel than consuming one that isn’t. Do the same with all closed mussels after cooking. Whatever isn’t open after cooking should not be eaten.

After having sorted out your mussels, rinse them to wash of any sediments.

Heat up the sieved tomatoes in a large pot until bubbling. Mince in a bit of fresh garlic (I usually go with 1 clove with 250g of tomatoes). Add the cleaned mussels to the pot, give a quick stir and top with a lid. Allow the mussels to cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. The mussels will start to open when they are cooked. Once all mussels have opened give an additional stir so that the tomato sauce can enter all open shells. Grind in a bit of parmesan, add some salt if necessary or some pepper if you like, stir and allow to simmer over low heat for another 5 minutes.
Serve the mussels straight from the pot in a big bowl with a few slices of good white bread. This dish is best eaten hot, straight from the shells. Enjoy.