The first time I ate shellfish prepared this way, they were tiny scallops called Coquilles “Brûle Doigts,” and I was in a fish bistro in Paris named La Cagouille. I’ve been making them at home ever since—sometimes just for myself! On a trip to San Francisco, I found them again, on the menu of an incredible bistro named “LuLu.” Then owner, Reed Hearon, had named them after the same bistro in Paris, and we had a great conversation about how much we both like La Cagouille—and mollusks prepared this way. I think you will, too! —ChefJune
fresh mussels (or tiny clams [cockles] or scallops in their shells)
freshly ground black pepper
unsalted butter to melt for dipping (or 1 stick)
Just before you prepare this dish, scrub the shellfish thoroughly and rinse them with several changes of cool water. Pull the beards off the mussels. (If you do this in advance, they will die and spoil!) Discard any of the mussels that you can’t encourage to close their shells. (They are already dead!) If you are using clams or scallops, you will not have to worry with the beards. Just scrub each piece, discarding any that won’t close, and proceed with step 2.
Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Use no fat at all. When a few drops of water sizzle in the skillet and vaporize, you’re ready to cook the mussels. Put all the mussels into the pan and start shaking it at once. The mussels should begin to open immediately. Keep shaking the pan until all of them have opened. If the pan becomes completely dry, sprinkle a few drops of water to moisten it. When all the mussels are opened, grind some fresh black pepper on them and bring the pan right to the table
For the dipping sauce, melt the unsalted butter and stir in the fresh lemon juice and freshly ground pepper. Garnish the pan with freshly cut lemon wedges.
Teacher's Tip: The beard on a mussel is seaweed that has gotten caught in the shell. Most widely available mussels are farm raised and generally beardless and sand-free, but if you get the “wild” kind, you’ll need to pull the beards off. They’re edible, but generally not appetizing nor attractive. Mussels (and other shellfish) with open shells may be dead. Rap on the shell with your knuckles or the blunt end of a knife—then try to close them. If these methods don’t work, discard. Only live shellfish are safe to eat