A Trip to Tofino and Mussels with Tomato, Red Wine & Chorizo

Serves 2 as a main; 4 as an appetizer

We’re going surfin’…in Tofino”.  For those who are unfamiliar, these are lyrics from (and the name of) a song by the Montreal-based ska-punk band, The Planet Smashers. They are also words commonly uttered by many BC residents, as Tofino is a popular weekend getaway for West Coast dwellers. Brett and I try to get there a couple of times a year, and today’s post is inspired by our most recent trip in early February.

Tofino is a small fishing village located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The resident population, though transient, is about 2,000. This number balloons in the summer and on long weekends throughout the year. Tofino literally marks the end of the trans-Canada highway and the locals pride themselves on their “end of the road culture”. Though small, the town is known for its beautiful sand beaches, world-class surfing, storm watching, fishing – which makes for lots of fresh, locally and sustainably harvested seafood, and its laid back vibe.  

The first weekend in February is BC’s Family Day holiday weekend, so this year Brett and I, along with eight friends, hit the road and headed to Tofino for five days. There are a handful of vacation homes in Tofino and, because the West Coast can be cold and damp at any time of year, many of these spots are equipped with custom kitchens, outdoor hot tubs, fire places, and heated tile floors. Needless to say, they make ideal accommodations for a large group of people seeking some cozy, West Coast relaxation.

Brett particularly loves Tofino, and our recent trip was actually a birthday celebration for him, his actual birthday falling just a few days later on February 14. Not only did we have a great weekend surfing, exploring the beaches, and lounging with our friends; we also visited the natural hot springs in Maquinna National Park, located about an hour boat ride north west of Tofino.

Following a relaxing day at the hot springs, complete with scenic boat ride there and back, we also had the good fortune to enjoy dinner at Wolf in the Fog. This recent addition to the Tofino culinary scene was awarded2014’s best new restaurant in Canada by En Route Magazine. How could we go to Tofino and NOT eat there?  Dinner absolutely lived up to its expectations, and then some. We’ve been fortunate to eat at some pretty incredible restaurants and I’d wager to say this was the best meal – start to finish – that I’ve had to date. The octopus, the surf component of the Szechuan Surf and Turf, was particularly memorable –perfectly cooked, tender, and flavourful.

While I have yet to make octopus, I wanted to write a post that commemorates the great seafood here on the coast, but a touch more approachable. Enter mussels. These are abundant in local waters, and they are an excellent sustainable seafood choice. They are also relatively inexpensive and cook in less than 10 minutes, making them a pretty quick, albeit impressive, dinner.  The key is freshness, so be sure to look for them at a reputable fish monger. Our neighbourhood go-to is The Fish Counter.

When the song about surfing in Tofino was released I was in high school and had never been to BC, let alone heard of this small fishing village called Tofino. It’s a place unlike any other I have visited before, truly embodying the culture and rugged beauty of the West Coast. I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t been there to add it to your list of places to visit, whether you surf or not. While you’re there be sure to pick up some fresh mussels, throw together a feast for you and your travel companions, and take in the view.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ lb. fresh mussels
  • Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium shallot or red onion
  • 1 small clove of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 dried hot Spanish chorizo, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 1 500-ml jar canned tomatoes and their juices
  • ½ cup Italian parsley, chopped

Method

The most time consuming part of making mussels is cleaning them, but it really doesn’t seem like a big deal once you’ve done it once or twice – and it’s well worth it. See below for tips on cleaning mussels.

Once the mussels are cleaned, heat a large pot* over medium-high heat on the stove top. Drizzle in a little olive oil and add shallots and chorizo. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the shallots are translucent and the chorizo has begun to brown slightly, and lend its colour to the oil.

Stir in garlic and allow it to simmer for another 30 seconds or so.

Drain the cleaned mussels from their soaking water and add them to the pot. Toss to coat in the shallot-chorizo mixture before adding the red wine, and tomatoes. Stir to coat and cover with a tightly fitting lid.

Allow the mussels to steam for about 4-5 minutes. They should be cooked after4-5 minutes. Mussels that have not opened are either not cooked, or are dead. If it seems like most of your mussels are not open, cook for another few minutes. The odd mussel left that doesn’t open should be discarded.

Transfer to serving bowls and sprinkle with parsley. Enjoy with a glass of wine and some rustic bread to soak up the broth.

*it is important not to over crowd mussels when cooking. If there are too many on top of each other they will not cook evenly. If cooking mussels for a crowd, do them in a few batches.

Preparing mussels for cooking:

  • Obtain your mussels the day you’d like to cook them and store them in the fridge.
  • About 30 minutes prior to cooking empty the mussels into a clean sink filled with cold water. Allow them to soak, which will encourage them to filter out any sand in their shells.
  • One at a time, while the other mussels soak, use a coarse kitchen brush to remove any barnacles or debris from the outside of the shells. Discard any mussels with cracked or chipped shells.
  • Remove the beard (seaweed like threads that will be hanging out of the shell). To do this, hold the mussel in one hand and the beard threads in the other. Firmly yank the beard threads toward the hinge of the shell.  If the beard is removed by this method you will ensure you don’t damage the mussel inside.  You can wrap your hand in a clean kitchen towel to better grasp the beard if you like.
  • When finished, place the mussels into a bowl of clean, cold water and continue until all mussels are cleaned and de-bearded.