Mussel Mania

Allow us to ruminate, instead of masticate, on mussels for a moment.

Mussels appear up and down the Atlantic coast, from North Carolina to Newfoundland, but have become a major cash crop of Prince Edward Island in the Canadian Maritime Provinces. On restaurant menus their provenance is usually announced with the term PEI, signifying to most folks anyway, a superior product.

There’s nothing wrong with PEI’s (Mytilus edulis, also known as blue or Atlantic mussels), as Eating Las Vegas finds them preferable in taste and texture to the unsightly and grainy New Zealand Green Lips that show up from time to time — but neither compares with the west coast Penn Cove mussel. Penn Coves (Mytilus trossulus) are also known as Pacific or Foolish* mussels and to our tastebuds, are the sweetest, silkiest, briniest and freshest expression of this bivalve. Increasingly, these are being farmed between Northern California and Southern Alaska, and these cold water environs contribute to their superior taste.

November is peak mussel season….and one kitchen that knows how to tantalizingly treat a trossulus is Spago. If you’re a PEI fan, there’s no better place to appreciate them than sitting on the patio of Marche Bacchus on an autumn evening, and polishing off a dozen or so whilst sipping a cool, crisp Sancerre. Both restaurants steam them according to the classic French recipe with shallots, garlic, white wine and parsley — leaving behind a nice bowl of boullion for sufficient bread sopping.


* Probably so named because of the large clusters they form on rocks, causing them to foolishly wash away and into the hands of predators.

There’s No Niman In Niman Ranch Anymore

Bill Niman used to supply us with our favorite beef and pork products at Trader Joe’s. Over the last year or so, they’ve become increasingly less visible on those shelves — just as Bill Niman gradually became less visible at the company he founded, until he was forced out last year for being a bad businessman. Funny how no one called him that for twenty-five years, as he and partner Orville Schell were building up the company with meat products every chef in America coveted.

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