Stellar waves and sunsets attract surfers from around the world to Puerto Escondido on Mexico’s southwest coast, where beer is a major food group and simply grilled seafood comes along for the ride.
Years ago I tasted anise-flavored mussels at a nondescript joint overlooking the famous beach. As I watched cooks throw seasoned black bivalves onto an open-fire grill, I knew I’d be making this fast and easy recipe for years to come.
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Back home in Southern California, I used to get huge black mussels at my Wednesday Santa Monica farmers market from a Santa Barbara aquaculture company that, alas, no longer exists. Another local company, Carlsbad Aquafarm, Inc., showed up one Wednesday with smaller mussels, similar to Prince Edward Island’s. It’s not that I have anything against the small, sweet-fleshed beauties (perfect for garlicky moules marinière), but big mussels are simply easier to cook on a grill. Tiny PEI mussels tend to fall through the grates. And grates are necessary in this recipe to keep the mussels flat so their precious juices stay intact. Recently I started grilling New Zealand green-lipped mussels for their herculean size and significant meaty mouthfuls of sea goodness.
Grilled mussels a fast and easy appetizer
As far as a recipe goes, Grilled Anise Mussels couldn’t be easier. Dump cleaned mussels in a bowl, mix seasoning all over and place on the grill. That’s it.
I have an indoor gas grill that makes cooking a snap. If I’m grilling throughout dinner or feeding a large group I may switch to a mighty outdoor gas grill or a kettle grill when wood smoke is part of my flavor equation.
Seafood lovers go nuts over Grilled Anise Mussels. This recipe is such a cinch I guarantee it to be your new go-to appetizer. The important ingredient is anise seed, with its subtle licorice taste and softer crunch than harder, bolder-flavored fennel seed. You can find anise seed in well-stocked supermarkets, specialty spice shops and mail-order Internet sites.
Grilled Anise Mussels
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer
2 pounds New Zealand green-lipped mussels or black mussels as large as possible
1 tablespoon anise seeds
1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the grill to hot.
2. To clean cultivated mussels, scrub them under cold running water with a brush and trim off their beards with a paring knife. As each is cleaned, set it in a colander and drain and dry for about 10 minutes. If there’s one that stays wide open and does not close, throw it away. Transfer the damp mussels to a large bowl.
3. Stir together the anise seeds, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Scatter over the mussels, and with your hands mix the seasoning throughout, deep into the bowl, covering each mussel all over.
4. Start grilling immediately, before the salt starts dissolving, by using long-handled tongs to quickly place each mussel on the hot grill with one of its flat sides down. (If an open edge is facing down, all the aromatic juices escape into the grill as soon as its shell opens.) In a minute or two, as each opens, place it on a serving platter, again flat side down. Some mussels take longer to open so turn them a few times with the tongs, being careful not to scrape off seasoning. Sometimes, too, tapping an uncooperative mussel with tongs encourages it to open. A few may char, and that’s fine. Throw away any that do not open.
5. Take the platter to the table to serve.
6. Here’s the fun part. Break off the top shell — it’s your spoon. With it, scrape the mussel meat from the bottom shell. Slide it into your mouth along with those valued juices while licking anise seasoning off the shell.
Top photo: New Zealand green-lipped mussels ready for serving. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky