The Critic Cooks: Mussels

March 20 2014, 10:30 AM

Like any busy mom, I’m always on the lookout for easy one-pot dinners to feed my family. I often turn to a pretty unexpected standby: mussels. The bivalve mollusks from colder waters are inexpensive, require just a handful of unattended minutes on my stovetop, and my toddlers always love an excuse to eat with their hands.

But what I love most about mussels is how versatile they are. Without requiring trips across town in search of obscure ingredients, moules (as they are known when served with frites in Brussels) will happily take on whichever flavors I happen to have on hand. If it’s chorizo and parsley, we cook them with Spanish flair. If it’s white wine and basil, we make mussels featuring the flavors of the Mediterranean. If I happen to have a can of coconut milk in the pantry, we go Thai.

A look at menus around town underscores just how adaptable mussels can be: This month at Parallel Seventeen, chef Mary Nguyen’s flagship Asian restaurant, she serves PEI mussels with Chinese sausage, shaved fennel, leeks, and a white wine and butter sauce. Chefs Jennifer Jasinski and Jorel Pierce of Euclid Hall prepare the mollusks with Belgian Tripel, shallot, garlic, thyme, basil, butter, and vegetable stock. At Beast & Bottle, chef Paul Reilly and his team plate mussels from Bangs Island, Maine (known simply as “bangs”), with celery root milk, shallot, celery leaf, and walnut oil. And 5280’s food editor Amanda M. Faison recently raved about Bittersweet’s smoked rendition.

So, forget what Anthony Bourdain wrote about mussels in Kitchen Confidential and join me in enjoying this easy, weeknight staple with reckless abandon. 

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Image courtesy of Shutterstock