I’ve only had mussels, oh, a few dozen times in the past year, but for some reason I had always thought that the key to success was a better liquid for them to cook in. Chorizo and champagne worked well, as did a simple onion, celery, butter, and vermouth mixture. So imagine my surprise when I found this recipe from Mark Bittman, who wants absolutely nothing at all.
This takes the emphasis off the ingredients and places it on the technique. Bittman suggests cooking the mussels in a cast iron skillet over really, really high heat. Add a few cracks of pepper and a pinch of salt—and that’s it. No butter, no onions, and no wine. He explains that the high heat gives the mussels a distinctly smoky aroma, almost like what you’d expect if they had been cooked over a wood. I’d have to agree. It’s weird, illogical, and a slight bit mysterious. But it works unbelievably well.
- Pepper and salt
Place a cast iron skillet over high heat for at least 5 minutes. Rinse off the mussels, discard the open ones, and debeard, if need be. Add mussels to skillet, cook until they have all opened; discard any that do not open. Crack the pepper and pinch the salt.