Salt Spring Island Mussels with Ale-Cream Sauce

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! No matter if you are Irish or not, you can’t pass up this holiday without a beer or two. But rather than drinking it straight, why not cook with it? And if some local mussels, garlic, cream and lots of parsley end up in the mix, it’s all the better!

Shortly after moving to the west coast, mussels became one of my favourite seafoods to eat. They are relatively inexpensive for seafood and can be cooked up in many different ways. I really enjoy the local Salt Spring Island mussels which are line-grown off the coast of Salt Spring Island, in the Strait of Georgia. The waters around Salt Spring Island are cold, incredibly clean and there is a high abundance of phytoplankton and microalgae- which the mussels love to eat. Because of this environment, the mussels are deep orange in colour and are consistently sweet and briny- truly the best I’ve ever had! Not only do these mussels taste amazing, they provide habitat to small fish as they grow on the lines in the ocean- and they’re OceanWise Certified! What’s not to love about that?

If you are up for the task of cooking mussels at home, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, it is best to buy the mussels the day that you want to cook them to make sure that none spoil on you overnight. You can cook them the following day if you keep them covered in the fridge on a bag of ice but be aware that you may lose a few overnight.

To ensure that the mussels are still alive, take a look at each one and make sure that it is tightly closed. If any mussels are opened or do not close up once you tap their shell, then discard them- they are dead and can make you sick if you eat them. Similarly, once the mussels are cooked and they have opened, discard any mussels that you find that are still closed. These mussels are dead too and can make you sick.

When preparing the mussels, give them a quick inspection. Ensure that the “beards” have been removed and the shells are scrubbed clean. The beard is a tiny bristly piece that sticks out from the side of the shell and this is what the mussel uses to hook on to rocks/ growing lines in the water. You want to remove the beard to make it look pretty and so that you don’t accidentally eat it- it doesn’t taste good at all! To remove the beard, simply pinch the it between your fingers and pull it off. It should come right out. You may need to put in some muscle power (haha!) to get the beard off from larger mussels…they can really put up a fight!

Once you have the mussels all cleaned you’re ready to get cooking! You can cook these mussel with whatever ingredients you like. I’ve done simple versions of white wine and garlic sauce (the classic), tomato and wine sauce and even coconut curry sauce before, but this ale-cream sauce is perfect for St. Patrick’s Day.

I used a light, locally made Belgian Ale from Strathcona Beer Company in this recipe (sorry my Irish friends, that’s all I could find at the liquor store!) but any good and light pale ale works great for mussels and seafood in general. You definitely want to stay away from dark beers like porters and stouts, really hoppy beers and whitbeers when pairing beer and seafood as they just don’t seem to work well.

To cook the mussels, I simply add some chopped garlic and shallots to a pot with oil and cook for a few minutes until the shallots have softened. I add in the beer (about 3/4 cup) and let that reduce down a bit before adding in the mussels. I cover the pot and steam the mussels for 5-6 minutes or until the mussels have all opened up. I then add 1/3 cup of cream over the mussels and some chopped parsley.

I like to serve mussels family-style in a large bowl with a side of crunch bread for dipping into the sauce. I hope you enjoy this beery mussels recipe this St. Patrick’s Day!

Click here for the full recipe!

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