I love going out to eat with friends and sharing the meal, family style. Everyone picks something, then we pass the plates around, so everyone gets to try a little bit. And I'm pretty willing to try just about anything on anyone's menu... except for the mussels. They're just such so easy to make. Still, I let my dining companions order them if they wish, and rarely explain why I never do. I also never partake in this order because I believe they're finger food, so it might leave fellow diners aghast to see how I eat them.
Now and again, I host a moules et frites night and, in my home, mussels are finger foods. Fellow diners are not required to eat them the way I do, but they certainly can't be embarrassed by it. Nevertheless, I always manage to convert a few people to my method* because it's nifty, and who doesn't like eating with their hands now and then?
When using my method, I get a little exercise for my mussel muscles. Lightly gripping the shell with my first two fingers and thumb, I snap the two sides of one shell together like mini-tongs to deftly extract the tender meat out of another shell. If there are veggies in the preparation, then the shell-tongs work well for eating those as well. Then, to drink the broth left in the bottom of the bowl (assuming it hasn't already been sopped up with bread or french fries), I separate my mini-tongs into two separate little soup spoons and drink the broth from the shell. Slurping is optional.
As to the ease of preparing these succulent treats, in the time it takes to fry one basket of thickly cut frites, you can steam enough mussels for four. Here's how:
4 lbs mussels (if you're friendly with your fish monger, he might pick out the heavier ones for you)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 red/orange/green peppers, thinly sliced.
3-4 sprigs each of thyme, basil, parsley
3/4 c. Belgian ale (or other tasty liquid. See details below.)
lemon wedges (optional)
If you haven't got beer on hand, white wine or a mixture of water and liquor (I've even tried vermouth) will do in a pinch. If you're not the drinking type, chicken or vegetable broth will also work.
Prepare the mussels by scrubbing them under cold water and debearding them. Rinse and set aside in a colander to drain.
In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over high heat. Saute the onions till tender, about 4-6 minutes. Add the peppers and saute for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, tie the herbs together with some kitchen twine to make a bouquet garni. Toss the bouquet garni into the pot and stir around for 10 seconds. Working quickly, pour the mussels into the pot, pour the beer over the mussels, and drop the lid on the pot. Let it steam for 5-7 minutes, depending on how hot your burner is and how heavy your pot is (hotter burner/heavier pot 5 minutes, cooler burner/lighter pot 7 minutes). Resist the urge to open the lid to check on it before 5 minutes. The mussels need to steam continuously to open up nice and wide. If this is your first time, open the lid just enough to take a peek and see if the mussels are all open. If they're not, drop the lid back on and let steam for another minute or two. When the time's up, open the lid, take in the fragrance, and give them a stir. Serve, sans une fourchette. Some people like lemon wedges for their mussels. I just use them to help clean my fingertips.
* I owe "my method" to a Belgian friend, Lesly, who taught me how to do it years ago in Washington, D.C. at my own moules et frites night.