Steamed Mussels & Snail Butter

A visit to the East Coast to visit family and friends, is also an opportunity to eat the foods I miss from Stowe, Vt., and Cape Cod and Nantucket, Mass., which means lots of seafood and other items I just don’t enjoy as much in other parts of the states. Some might come as a surprise, such as cheeseburgers and corn on the cob. Of course, I eat cheeseburgers and corn on the cob elsewhere, but on the East Coast it is different.

The key to steamed mussels is the snail butter used while cooking.

Believe it or not, I had my first flame-broiled cheeseburger that didn’t come from a fast food place in, well, I really don’t know how long. A cheeseburger cooked out on the grill is truly one of the best foods ever invented. The difference between West Coast sweet corn and East Coast corn is that on the East Coast it really is sweet. Out here, you can get corn once in a while that is sweeter than most corn and it isn’t bad, but it still can’t compare to East Coast corn. It is almost as if every seed planted for a corn stalk also is planted with a sugar cube.

One other thing I have to have back East is a Funny Bone. All I’ll say about them is they are wicked good.

My first weekend back, I managed to fulfill my cravings for lobster and steamers. A lot of the markets sell live lobster, but the steamers are soft-shelled longnecks as compared to the little necks used here. Although the long necks can be sandy, there are ways around that. Some people will use corn meal to let the clams purge the sand out before cooking, but usually a good dunking in the broth will rinse the sand out. After that, it is a quick dip in the butter and then a little bite of heaven.

Once I got to Nantucket, it was nothing but seafood. My friend Kitty had just caught a Wahoo and a yellowfin tuna the day before. We had fried clams for lunch and then a grilled assortment of her two fish along with some fresh shark her friend caught with fresh corn for dinner. That meal was duplicated the next night and those two meals were the best seafood dinners you could ever get anywhere.

My last two days were spent on the cape and I had fried clams two more times. I haven’t found anywhere on the West Coast that serves whole-belly-clams. All I’ve seen out here is clam strips and that just isn’t the same. With my fried-clam cravings now satisfied, that left only one more meal.

For my last meal, I was asked to make a batch of steamed mussels the way we served them back at the Nantucket Yacht Club. This was a recipe I had learned while doing my apprenticeship in Vermont and has been such a hit, I haven’t changed it. My first year at the yacht club, the chef had gone through the same apprenticeship program under the same chef as I did a few years before me and he had put this on the menu as a full-time item because of its popularity. The key is the snail butter used while cooking. Snail butter is a French compound butter served with snails.

You can get mussels out here, so next time you are thinking of having a bowl, try this recipe out and enjoy.

Snail Butter
1 lb. butter, softened
5 shallots, fine diced
5 cloves garlic, fine diced
2 T walnuts, finely crushed
2 T parsley, finely chopped
½ T pernoid
1 T tarragon
½ T Worcestershire sauce

Mix ingredients together.

Before you start cleaning the mussels, make sure they are all still alive. Put them in a sink and while running a little cold water over them, vigorously move them around letting them bump into the sink sides, as well as each other. Check to be sure they are closed. It is important never to eat any shellfish that has died before you are ready to cook it. Discard any mussels that are open because they are dead.

Pull the beards, the stringy part coming out of the shell and they are ready to cook.

Place in a sauté pan with a ¼ cup white wine and break up. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter over the top. Turn on the heat to high and cover the pan with another.

Steam until all the butter has melted and the mussels open, which should only take a couple minutes. Pour the liquid over the mussels and serve with bread.