These days, you’d be hard pressed to not find a restaurant menu listing one of my favorite dishes – P.E.I. mussels. Years ago, diners were often confused by the P.E.I. abbreviation, which is often the case on many-a-chef-driven menus. Over time, however, diners have come to learn that P.E.I. references one specific island where cold water mussels are sourced from crystal blue waters – making them some of the best and most accessible mussels in the world. That island is Prince Edward Island, Canada.
In the same way California branded its wine regions or Wisconsin its cheese, Prince Edward Island has created a brand around both seafood and potatoes – with other industries including local island beef and craft beer not far behind. It should come as no surprise then that P.E.I. is always a top destination for chefs and food lovers alike.
Chefs – just like artists, writers, painters, and musicians – truly benefit from travel and experiencing different foods, cultures, and people. We discover new ingredients, techniques, and applications which allow us to transform and adapt our cooking styles to create unique and inspired dishes.
Fortunately, I’m able to combine much of my work with travel, and I’ve had the opportunity to visit this special island multiple times over the past few years. Since the island is a “foodie” paradise, I thought I would share some of my favorite recipes that are influenced by the bounty of fresh seafood found on the island, along with some travel tips should you have an opportunity to make a trip to P.E.I. yourself. Of course, one doesn’t have to visit or source their ingredients from this utopia to try out the recipes below. No matter where you source your seafood, the following techniques and recipes still apply.
How to Shuck an Oyster
It doesn’t get any manlier than shucking and eating raw oysters on a fishing boat in the open water. Award-winning Chef Ross Munro of P.E.I. Culinary Adventures gives us the lowdown on how to shuck the perfect oyster, every time.
- Secure the top and bottom of the oyster on a towel against a hard surface.
- Insert an oyster knife into the ‘key’ or hinge – do not force pressure towards your hand – instead twist the knife to pop open the shell.
- Use the knife to remove the top and bottom abductor muscles, remove grit, and serve.
Steamed P.E.I. Mussels
On the island, mussels are most often served as simply as possible. After all, you want to savor their delicate flavor without getting distracted by over-the-top seasonings or garnishes. Sure, you will find recipes finished in cream, topped with smoked bacon, or even laden in curry sauces – but I prefer letting these little guys speak for themselves. This is a great appetizer to whip up quickly in a single pot – just serve with an empty bowl so guests can discard their shells. A crusty bread is also a must for sopping up all the great juices! (Prep 5 mins, Cook 10 mins, Serves 4)
2 lbs P.E.I. Mussels1 cup dry white wine4 cloves garlic, minced2 Tablespoons parsley, mincedFresh lemon wedges, if desired
Bring all ingredients to a steady steam over medium-high heat in a 5-quart pot – keep covered. Steam for 5-8 minutes (or until mussels open). Remove from heat and serve.
P.E.I. Low Country Boil
The following recipe is the perfect example of combining my love of Southern cuisine with fresh P.E.I. ingredients. In Louisiana, crawfish boils are a staple throughout spring and summer – a crowd-friendly dish which allows you to basically cook every ingredient together in a large pot. Dining is communal, as the large pot of ingredients is typically poured out on tables lined with newspapers, allowing diners to stand side-by-side, eating with their hands, and conversing over spicy food and cold beer. This recipe ups the ante by adding in fresh lobster. I prefer to boil the lobsters whole, dropping them into the pot head first to cook. If you feel it is more humane to kill the lobsters prior to boiling, simply use a sharp knife to quickly cut the top of the lobsters head where the lines in the shell form a big T. You can separate the claws and tails after cooking to allow diners to enjoy different parts of the lobster. (Prep 30 mins, Cook 45 mins, Serves 8–12)
5 lbs small red potatoes5 lbs Vidalia (sweet) onions, quartered3 lbs fresh yellow corn, shucked, and cut in half2 lbs large button mushrooms5 lbs smoked andouille sausage5 lobsters, each 1-2 lbs in size5 lbs large Shrimp, deveined, head and shell on10 lbs large live crawfish
5-6 bay leaves1 cup kosher salt1 cup paprika½ cup cayenne pepper2 heads of garlic1 bunch of celery3 lemons (halved)½ cup black peppercorns6 light beersCreole seasoning blend
Fill a large 60-quart pot 2/3-full of water. Use seawater if you can or add a cup of salt if that’s not available. If you don’t have a big ol’ 60-quarter, you can fifth the recipe and use a 12-quart pot.
Add all seasonings into the pot. Crank up the heat with the lid on to quicken the process. Once the water comes to a boil, add potatoes and onions. After 5-10 minutes, add mushrooms and return to a slow boil. After 10 minutes add corn and sausage. Allow the water to come back to a strong boil for 1-2 minutes and add the lobster. Return to a slow boil. Immediately turn off the heat, add shrimp and crawfish, and cover the pot. Allow the pot to sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes. Next, stir the pot to ensure that the crawfish are bright red in color and the shrimp are pink and firm. Note, at this point you can allow the boil to soak up more flavor/heat, by allowing it to rest. Drain the pot and pour out on a large table covered with newspapers. Season the boil with Creole seasoning. Have lemon slices and paper towels readily available.