I came across this unusual recipe for fried mussels while reading Diane Kochilas’ excellent book The Glorious Foods of Greece: Traditional Recipes from the Islands, Cities, and Villages. Apparently fried mussels is a thing in Macedonia and Thrace.
Fried mussels is not something I grew up with. Fried clams are my normal jam. But mussel gathering is easy here in Northern California, and hell, I like fried foods, so why not?
I am glad I tried this. Spicy without being picante, mussels dredged in garlicky skordalia sauce will give you an experience not unlike my traditional fried clams in tartar sauce. Same mechanics, different flavors.
There are two ways you can go about getting your mussels out of the shells. You can shuck them raw, but I generally don’t like this method because unlike clams or oysters, mussel shells are thin and brittle. I find they break too often.
Better to steam them in a lidded frying pan, removing each mussel the moment it opens. Doing this keeps the mussels tender and is a lot less messy.
A word on the olive oil you fry the mussels in: It should be cheap, refined olive oil, which has a much higher smoke point than extra virgin. Use the extra virgin oil in the skordalia.
As for the spices, it’s your call. None, some or all of what I recommend. My mix comes from spices I see in Greek cooking, but is not anything “authentic” so far as I know. Whatever you choose to use, don’t put paprika in the mix: Frying it will make the paprika turn bitter.
Greek Fried Mussels
- 4 pounds mussels
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon ground fenugreek (optional)
- 1 tablespoon onion powder (optional)
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Cheap olive oil, for frying
- 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts, chopped
- 4 1-inch thick slices of bread, crusts removed
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Make the skordalia first. Dampen the bread with some water, then squeeze it dry. Tear it into pieces and put into a food processor. Add the garlic, salt and pine nuts and pulse a few times. Add the vinegar. Now, with the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil until you get a mayonnaise-like paste. Set aside.
- Pour the white wine into a large, wide pan with a lid. Add the bay leaves and bring to a boil. Add the mussels in one layer and steam with the lid on. As each mussel opens, remove it to a plate. Keep doing this until all the mussels are open.
- Remove the mussels from the shells. Remove the wiry beards if they have them; store-bought mussels often don't. Heat enough cheap olive oil in a pot or fryer to be able to deep-fry the mussels. Heat to 350 degrees.
- Mix the flour with all the spices and dredge the mussels in it. Shake off the excess and fry in the hot oil until golden, about 2 or 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve alongside the skordalia.