P.E.I.'s mighty mollusk

Mary MacKay comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on August 30, 2014

Get ready to flex your mussels!

Toss out that tried-and-true, but tired, steamed mussel recipe and prepare to dive into a sea of taste adventure with Mussels: Preparing, Cooking and Enjoying a Sensational Seafood.

Created, written and thoroughly taste-tested by consummate culinary adventurer Linda Duncan, aka Mussel Mamma, of Prince Edward Island, and her partner in cookbook writing, Maritime culinary ambassador Alain Bosse, also known as the Kilted Chef, this cookbook goes where no seafood recipe collection has gone before.

In addition to the expected appetizer, salad and main recipes, there are tasteful surprises like mussel tacos, pizza, mac ‘n’ cheese, mussel cocktails and more.

“The thing with mussels is they’re both sweet and savoury at the same time. And we have so many ingredients in our cupboard that are either sweet or savoury. And just the composition of the meat is such that it picks up the flavours. So you can tell the difference between a mussel you cook in beer and a mussel you cook in wine or apple juice or apple cider. In fact, we almost wanted to call the book The Sponge of the Sea . . . ,” laughs Duncan, whose book just hit No. 1 in its category on Amazon.ca.

The idea for this 77-recipe mussel cookbook popped up out of nowhere when Bosse was presenting master classes to chefs as part of a North American food service project for the Mussel Industry Council, of which Duncan is executive director.

“One night we were in the Midwest and Alain said, ‘I really want to write a book,’ and I said, ‘It’s on my bucket list, too!’ I’ve been a foodie all my life. I pick the restaurant and then I pick the accommodation,” Duncan laughs.

The idea was pitched to a couple of publishers and within six weeks they had a contract with Whitecap Books.

Duncan and Bosse knew they wanted to offer both at-home cooks and restaurant chefs new ways to cook and eat the tasty bivalves. Some classical approaches with a twist include curried mussels and mussel risotto to some more adventurous concoctions like mussel strudel and mussel drinks, including a ceasar-like mussel mama cocktail.

“There’s something like 80 million caesars sold in Canada every year and all of it is clam juice and tomato juice mixed. Mussel broth has more flavour than clams,” Duncan says.

“We have a whole chapter on the mussel broth (in the book). It’s the unsung hero.”

Another often-unsung hero — the mussel industry itself — gets its dues in the book’s introduction. The mussel industry on P.E.I., for example, is barely three decades old, Duncan says.

The first years of production garnered fewer than 5,000 pounds. In 2012, production in P.E.I. was 50 million pounds, and there are now more than 100 farmers on P.E.I. who farm about 11,000 acres.

“The pioneers here, they figured it out. Mussels have been grown in Europe for a long time, in some cases centuries, but it’s become intrinsic to our life here on P.E.I.,” Duncan adds.

“What happens with Islanders, though, is they think that everybody knows exactly as much as they do about mussels; how to cook them, how to know when they’re fresh, and you won’t know a single Islander who doesn’t have their own recipe of how they cook them — almost always steamed with beer or wine. The classic is my mother’s (method). She always cooked them with carrots, onions, celery and beer, and in went the mussels.”

The two most common mistakes people make when cooking mussels is they cook them in too much liquid and they keep lifting the pot lid to see if they’re done.

The book gives an easy-to-use chart of the mussels to liquid ratio, and Duncan says the cooking method is quite simple.

“Mussels are cooked by steaming in the highest heat possible. So you put the pot (on the stove) and put the lid on — we don’t boil them, we steam them — as the liquid on the bottom boils, the steam rises and that’s what cooks them. (So) when the steam gets to the very top and starts barrelling out from under the lid they’re done. Then you take the top off,” she says.

“But if you take the top off (before that) the steam has to come back up again and again. The more you cook them the smaller they get. They shrink. So it doesn’t matter what size pot you have, how many mussels you have, the same rule applies.”

Duncan says the mussels cookbook has all the information both consumers and chefs need to know about choosing, storing and cooking this healthy and tasty seafood.

“(We really wanted) to inform people about the industry, to

help people to understand how to cook them and how to handle them and then here are some fun ideas that are maybe different than you would have thought of before.”



Try this at home

Here are some recipes from the book to try at home.


Canadian Curried Mussels

This recipe is similar to sassy curried mussels but with the silky sweetness of pure maple syrup, you get a real Canadian experience.

Alain highly recommends using pure maple syrup here as opposed to commercial table syrup if at all possible.

One of the top pieces of advice he gives is to always cook with the absolute best ingredients you can afford. It makes a world of difference.


2 lb (1 kg) mussels

1/4 cup (60 mL) white wine

1/4 cup (60 mL) finely chopped shallots

1/4 cup (60 mL) diced red pepper

1/2 cup (125 mL) maple syrup

1 tsp (5 mL) yellow curry powder

1/2 cup (125 mL) cream (35 per cent)


1. Rinse the mussels under running fresh water. Throw away any that do not close.

2. In a large pot, add the mussels, wine, shallots and red pepper. Cover with a lid and cook on high for approximately 5 to 6 minutes or until steam is pouring out from under the lid.

3. Remove the mussels from the broth, cover and set aside.

4. Add the maple syrup and the yellow curry to the broth, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for approximately 5 minutes.

Add the cream and allow to reduce for another 3 to 4 minutes or until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon.

5. Reintroduce the mussels to the pot and gently mix in with the sauce.

6. Serve with your favourite bread for dipping.



Have you ever noticed that the ingredients that make a classic Bloody Mary so fantastic are the same ingredients often found in mussel recipes?

Well, now you know, so give this cocktail a try. And as you raise your glass, exclaim “Sociable!”-a Maritime tradition much like saying “Cheers.”


pepper and salt on a side plate

1 lb (500 g) mussels

2 oz (60 mL) white wine

1 lemon wedge

2 oz (60 mL) vodka

8 drops Worcestershire sauce

4 drops Tabasco

1 tsp (5 mL) horseradish

3/4 cup (185 mL) vegetable juice

2 pickled asparagus spears, for garnish

1 lemon slice, for garnish


1. Rinse the mussels under running fresh water. Throw away any that do not close.

2. In a large pot, add the mussels and wine. Cover with a lid and cook on high for approximately 5 to 6 minutes or until steam is pouring out from under the lid.

3. Let the mussels cool. Remove the mussel meat from the shells and put it in a covered bowl or dish. Reserve ¼ cup (60 mL) the broth.

4. Take a large 16 oz (475 mL) canning (Mason) jar or a large glass and run a lemon wedge around the rim. Dip in the pepper and salt, and shake off the excess. Fill the jar or glass with ice and put in two ounces (60 mL) of vodka. Add the Worcestershire, tabasco and horseradish to taste.

The more you add, the spicier the cocktail will become. Top with the reserved mussel broth and vegetable juice and stir well.

5. Spear 4 mussels on a bamboo stick.

6. Garnish with the mussel skewer, 2 pickled asparagus spears and a lemon slice.