Let's take a look at one of my favourite ingredients: mussels. Mussels are marine bivalve creatures that are delicious, sustainable, inexpensive and very good for you. They are just as fun to cook as they are easy. This technique is almost identical to how you would steam clams but some mussels have "beards" (more on that later) which is just one extra yet easy step. Here I am using PEI (Prince Edward Island) mussels, which are some of the best in the world, but always aim for the most local mussels you can find. They can range from many colours like black, grey, brown, blueish and greenish too.
Wash your mussels in cold water and give them a good scrub with a brush or sponge to remove any sand or grit. If you come across any mussels where the shell is open, gently tap it against a hard surface a few times. The mussel should close back up within a couple of seconds. If the shell does not react, then discard it. That means that it has already died and therefore has already begun to spoil. Not all, but some mussels may have traces of "beards" attached. Beards are tough, hair-like threads that are used to latch on to rocks and things under the sea. The beard is inedible so discard that too. It can easily be pulled out with your fingers or a pair of tweezers.
Once your mussels are cleaned and prepped, you're ready to go. My favourite way to eat mussels is to steam them in a delicious sauce and then eat with a crusty loaf of bread. You can make just about any kind of sauce you like but my favourite is a white wine sauce with aromatic vegetables. Here I'm using chopped leek, shallot, garlic and chili with some fresh tarragon.
In a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, sautée your vegetables in butter and olive oil until they have softened. Don't forget to season to taste as you go. Pour about a cup and a half of wine into the saucepan and stir. Bring the liquid to a boil and allow all the alcohol to burn off. Dump the mussels into the saucepan and quickly close the lid. Give them saucepan a little shake, with the lid still on, to move them around. The lid is important because you want to trap the steam in with the mussels. Allow to cook for 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Remove the lid and give them pan a stir. The mussels should be opening up. Once they've opened, they release their own flavourful liquid to the sauce. Do not cook for over four minutes or they will become chewy. Most of them should be open at this time. Discard any that have not opened, as it is likely that they had also expired before being cooked.
In this example, I chopped up some fresh tarragon and stirred it in at the end. I also added a dollop of crème fraîche and stirred that in as well. Then it's just a matter of pouring everything into a bowl and eating it with some warm, crusty bread. You can use the shell of the mussels to scoop up the broth and the veg. You can (and should) sop up the liquid with the bread too. It's a fun, interactive (sometimes romantic) way to eat a seemingly fancy meal which is actually quite easy, inexpensive and really quick.
There are so many different flavour profiles that you can apply this technique to. Mussels in tomato sauce or a coconut Thai curry broth are also stupendous options. Be creative and enjoy!