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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

ASPARAGUS TIPS: Mussels Are Big Winners For Winter Barbecues

A week ago I complained about the difficulties of visiting a friend and broomball teammate in the hospital. He was finally released, and to celebrate our team held a late winter barbecue. It was perfect barbecue weather -- minus 15 degrees Celsius, light snow and a refreshing evening breeze.

The barbecue contributions were varied, but the guest of honor brought the outstanding item, New Zealand green-lipped mussels. This mussel (Perna canaliculus) is probably the finest mussel in the world -- large, succulent and tasty.

The common sea mussel, found attached to rocks on the shores of Europe, America and Asia, is widely used as food and fishing bait. Freshwater mussels are found in rivers and streams of North America, Europe and Asia, and are commercially important. Mussels secrete many pearls, though most are of low quality and used in cheap jewelry.

Mussels, midy in Russian, are the common name for any marine or freshwater bivalve closely related to oysters and scallops. Mussels are called filibranchiates, which means that the filaments, or branches, of their gills have interlocking bunches of hair-like cilia.

Mussels, like oysters, are indiscriminate filter feeders and can accumulate toxins from polluted waters or the "red tides" created by concentrations of certain harmful organisms and must therefore the gathered from clean habitats. Fortunately, most mussels sold are cultivated. They get all the nutrients but miss out on a lot of the pollution, sand and grit their wild relatives have to endure.

Mussels take only about five minutes to cook, so take care or they will become tough. We barbecued some of our "catch" on a hot barbecue plate with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and wine -- not bad, but the gourmets on the barbecue brigade lightly sauteed a few sliced cloves of garlic in butter in a large pan, then added the mussels, some white wine and cracked black pepper. The result was an appetizing preamble to our barbecue meats. Our mussels had been shelled, but if you buy them in the shell you can barbecue them by placing them, shell down, on a hot barbecue plate, drizzle a little quality olive oil on top and add a few grinds of fresh black pepper.

There are countless ways to prepare mussels. They can be eaten raw and often are included on shellfish platters in France. Mussels steamed in white wine is a classic dish you should try. You can prepare simple garlic mussels by dabbing garlic butter on steamed mussels in the shell then placing them under a hot grill for two minutes. The juices are sensational mopped up with bread or croutons. Cooked mussels can be mixed with boiled small potatoes, some parsley, spring onions and a mustard vinaigrette, then piled onto salad leaves.

In the Sterea region of Greece, cooks dredge large mussels in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, dip them in beer and fry to a golden brown in olive oil. Served on greens with lemon and dill, it is a feast.

Mussels are widely available in Moscow supermarkets, including Diplomat. Ramstor has New Zealand green lips frozen in boxes, Stockmann has fresh mussels in netting and 200-gram containers of mussels in brine (an excellent substitute for fresh) and Mega Centre Italia has a range of frozen mussels and mussels in jars, plain or prepared.

Diplomat, 63 Bolshaya Gruzinskaya Ulitsa, 251-2589, Metro Belorusskaya.

Mega Center Italia, 10 Ulitsa Akademika Pilyugina, 132-3233/0170, Metro Novye Cheryomushki.