Paying Homage To The Mighty Mussel

Tennessee Aquarium’s 4th Annual Serve And Protect Event Is Sept. 4

Thursday, August 7, 2014 - by Thom Benson
Barton Seaver
Barton Seaver
- photo by Allie Cotrill

What do you know about Blue Mussels?

If you’re an archaeologist, you might tell people about how they’ve been unearthed in kitchen middens dating back to 6,000 B.C. If you’re an ecologist, you probably tout the way mussels purify water while filter-feeding. If you’re a aquaculturist, you can’t wait to show everyone the way they’re grown on ropes. And if you are a nutritionist, you love the fact that mussels are packed with heart- and brain-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.

But if you are a chef, you simply love the many ways you can prepare mussels to tempt the taste buds of everyone. “What I love most about mussels is how quick and easy they are to prepare,” said chef Tamie Cook. “In about 15 minutes you can have a delicious and impressive meal on the table. While mussels are still a little unknown in the Southeast, I love introducing people to their sweet, slightly briny flavor.”

Cook will produce and host a live, Food-Network styled cooking show as part of the Tennessee Aquarium’s fourth annual Serve & Protect Sustainable Seafood event on Sept. 4. The four-course evening is designed to be an entertaining and informative event with many opportunities to try something new. “Having two chefs like Barton Seaver and Nico Romo sharing the stage for this year’s event is very exciting,” said Cook. “They are both warm, funny and very enthusiastic about the Aquarium’s sustainable seafood program. I think people will really enjoy the combination of knowledge and energy they’ll bring to Chattanooga.”

While mussels will never replace shrimp as America’s number one seafood choice, the Blue Mussel is gaining in popularity.  Restaurant patrons are discovering the sweet, tender meat while more and more chefs like Romo are developing new ways to prepare delectable mussel dishes. “Mussels have always been one of my favorite ingredients. They are fast, easy to cook and incredibly versatile” said Romo. “The flavors of the mussels du jour that I prepare at Fish Restaurant in Charleston range from spicy tomato-ginger to bacon, yellow curry and even local beer. Mussels add depth to our signature seafood bouillabaisse, and of course, moules & frites is a traditional French dish I love to serve.”

In spite of rising demand and the fact that farming Blue Mussels actually improves water quality, there is still a mussel deficit in the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, around $30 million dollars of mussels are imported each year compared to the $6.7 million dollars farmed here.

Cook believes that everyone attending the Serve & Protect events will leave satisfied, both having enjoyed an elegant seafood dinner in an Aquarium gallery and learning tips and techniques that can help everyone flex their culinary muscles preparing sustainable seafood dishes at home.

To give everyone a head start, Cook is sharing her recipe for “Mussels Opa!” Cook says mussel farming is relatively new to Greece, but has grown by leaps and bounds in the past decade. “I love Greek food, so I wanted to create a mussel recipe that had a taste of the Mediterranean,” said Cook. “I think I was craving a gyro and a Greek salad when I developed this recipe. So serve it with grilled pita to soak up all of the delicious juices and you’ll be saying Opa!”

Chef Tamie Cook’s Mussels Opa!

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small red onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup diced fresh tomato

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons ouzo or other anise flavored liquor

2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

2 ounces Greek feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup coarsely chopped kalamata olives, optional

Grilled pita bread

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large cast iron skillet set over medium heat.  Once the oil shimmers, add the onion, garlic and salt and cook, stirring frequently, 2 to 3 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant.  Add the tomato and stir to combine.  Add the wine, ouzo and mussels.  Cover and cook 2 minutes. Toss and continue to cook 2 to 3 more minutes or until most of the mussels are opened.  Remove any unopened mussels and add the parsley, oregano, feta and olives, if using.  Serve with grilled pita bread for sopping up the juices.

Serves four as an appetizer or two as a main course.


Fourth Annual Serve & Protect Event - Thursday, Sept. 4

5:30 – 6:30 pm Cocktails & Appetizers

IMAX Great Hall


6:45 pm Live Cooking Show

IMAX Theater


8:00 pm Elegant Seated Dinner

Tennessee Aquarium


9:00 pm Dessert Reception

River Journey Lobby


To learn more about Chef Nico Romo and Chef Barton Seaver and to buy tickets, go to:




Nico Romo
Nico Romo
- Photo2 by Fish Restaurant

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