Wild mussels grow on rocks in inter-tidal zones, and consequently often need to be purged of sand before cooking, or their broth strained after cooking. Many an otherwise excellent mussel dish has been spoiled by a gritty crunch. Tricks for purging mussels of sand include soaking them with seawater, or corn meal, or oats.
Cultivated mussels are often grown on ropes, and these are the mussels that I prefer because they are usually sand-free. Rope-cultivated mussels are grown from mussel larvae that have settled on a rope’s surface. The process is fascinating and simple enough for anyone who lives by the ocean’s edge to try.
Many years ago I joined my husband on a business trip to the south of France. One highlight of the trip was our dinners in the large and gracious dining room of the inn. It was here that I discovered mussel soup in the French style and I ordered it every day.
The most beautiful soup that I know of, its fragrant creamy broth is orange-tinted with saffron threads and studded with the black shells of opened mussels. I was sure that I would never be able to replicate such a soup in my own kitchen, so I was astonished to have success with my first try, a recipe from The Seafood Cookbook by Pierre Franey and Bryan Miller (1986 Times Books). Easy to execute, the recipe can be prepared and cooked, start-to-finish, in under half an hour. For a complete meal, serve with a salad, cheese and fresh fruit, and crusty bread.