Mussels: Where to find them and what to do with them.

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Shellfish gathering is a fun and enjoyable outdoor experience. Mussels don’t get as much hype as Manila clams and geoducks, but they’re rather easy to forage in Puget Sound waterways.

This week, chef Tom Douglas (owner of Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen and many more) offers his advice on how to prepare these delicious shellfish. Mussels are highly sought after by cooks for seafood dishes such as bouillabaisse and paella.

Where to find mussels

Mussels are very common to find along open areas of Puget Sound especially in areas around Whidbey Island at Penn Cove, Oak Harbor and Saratoga Pass.

Look for mussels attached to rocks, pilings on piers and docks or buoy lines. There are two types of mussels; the most common is blue or bay mussel that grows up to about 3 inches in length.

Like other shellfish, before gathering mussels, call the marine biotoxin hotline at 800-562-5632 or visit the website at www.doh.wa.gov. Also check the state fisheries hotline at 866-880-5431 and web site at http://wdfw.wa.gov. State Fish and Wildlife offers a good interactive shellfish map.

Note: All eastern mainland beaches from Everett south into southern Puget Sound are also closed for shellfish due to unsafe pollution levels.

 Tom Douglas’ advice on how to prepare and serve mussels:

Mussels are aqua farmed all over the Puget Sound. My favorites come from Penn Cove Shellfish on Whidbey Island, just north of Seattle. With their elongated oval blue-black shells and sweet, tender meat, mussels are a snap to cook and a delight to eat.

Mussels partner well with white wine, beer, butter, leeks, garlic, fresh herbs, roasted tomatoes and wild mushrooms. Fatty meats like bacon, sausage, or ham hock are particularly good counterpoints to the clean, lean flavor of the shellfish. Another idea is to add slices of spicy Spanish chorizo to a pan of steamed mussels.

Or you can go Asian.

One of my favorite ways is to wok-fry mussels with sake ginger butter. I like to use a wok for this, but if you don’t have one, a large saute pan works just as well. To get your mussels ready for the pan, rinse them and scrub with a stiff brush. If you see any ‘beards’ (the rough, scrubby threads that the mussel uses to attach itself to a surface), grasp firmly between your thumb and forefinger and give a hard yank. Cultivated mussels are the easiest to clean.

When your mussels are clean, heat a wok or large saute pan over high heat, and add about two pounds of mussels with a healthy slug of sake, a small handful of peeled and julienned fresh ginger, and a couple dried red chiles.

Cover with a lid and cook over high heat until the mussels open, which only takes 3 or 4 minutes. Take off the lid, add some chopped green onion, ¾ stick of butter, diced, and a squeeze of lime juice. Shake and stir the pan over the heat just until the butter melts. Season with salt and pepper, adding salt carefully because mussels are often salty. Divide mussels into two large bowls and enjoy with more lime wedges.

Another idea is to turn your mussels into a quick chowder.

Steam mussels open in a covered pan over high heat using half white wine and half chicken stock for liquid (using enough liquid to later become the chowder base for however many servings you want). Remove the mussels from the pan and strain and reserve the cooking liquid. Pick the mussels from the shells and discard the shells, reserving the mussel meat.

Related video: On the farm with Tom Douglas

Jackie Cross grows vegetables, including potatoes, for Tom Douglas Restaurants. The married couple’s organic farm in Prosser, Washington, supplied the restaurants with 60,000 pounds of produce last year. Read more. (Corinne Chin / The Seattle Times)

To make the chowder, gently saute some chopped leek, finely diced carrot and finely diced red bliss potatoes in butter. Add the reserved mussel cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are tender. Finish the chowder with a bit of heavy cream, add the picked mussels, and season with salt and pepper.

Serve the mussel chowder in bowls with thyme crostini (slices of baguette brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with fresh thyme, and baked until golden) dolloped with a little smoked paprika rouille (good mayonnaise seasoned with chopped garlic, fresh lemon juice and zest, smoked paprika, and salt and pepper).

Once you get the idea you can add other tasty ingredients to your chowder like cooked, drained and chopped bacon, fresh corn kernels scraped from the cob, or sautéed shiitake mushrooms.

Coming up

This season, esteemed local chefs will share recipes and advice on how to cook a wide variety of local seafood weekly through October.

This year’s lineup of chefs include executive chef Jason Brzozowy of Maria Hines’ Tilth; executive chef Pat Donahue of Anthony’s Restaurants; chef Taichi Kitamura, owner of Sushi Kappo Tamura; chef Shota Nakajima owner of Naka’s; executive chef Wesley Hood of AQUA by El Gaucho along with other chefs from El Gaucho, El Gaucho in Bellevue and The Inn at El Gaucho; Jason Wilson, executive chef and owner of Miller’s Guild and Coffee Flour; Taylor Hoang, from Pho Cyclo; Chefs Jun Takai and Yasuhiro “Yasu” Kusano at Shiro’s Sushi in Seattle’s Belltown; and Chef Megan Coombes, from Altstadt.

Recipes will be posted every Wednesday and/or Thursday through Nov. 2. Also, if you have a recipe you’d like to reel-in my way, please let me know and I will post them, and will even test it out with my family and friends.