I love mussels but have a hard time ordering them from a fancy restaurant for $22 when I know I can feed four adults for the same amount when I make them myself.
In 2011 I met a friend at a wine bar in Austin, and we shared a bowl of mussels in a white wine sauce topped with french fries and a dollop of herby hollandaise sauce. It was my introduction to mussels, and it was spectacular. I have since made mussels with varying flavor profiles, but my favorite is this tried and true recipe highlighting good white wine, garlic and lemon.
2 T olive oil (California Olive Ranch, Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
2 T butter (salted sweet cream)
1-2 shallots, minced (1/2 cup)
3 garlic cloves, minced (okay, I usually add like 5 minced cloves)
2 pounds mussels
1 c chicken stock (made with Better than Bouillon)
1 c white wine (Kendall Jackson, La Crema, Alpha Omega II, Bogle, BV, Rombauer, Paju, Jordon, Rodney Strong)
14 ounce can diced tomatoes (I like the fire roasted)
3 T whipping cream
2 T chopped parsley
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Crusty bread for serving or other accoutrement
Buying and Prepping the Mussels
When you buy mussels from the fish counter, they are sold to you alive. The fishmonger should loosely wrap these in paper and place inside an open plastic bag with ice. You need them to stay cold and also be able to breathe. Expect to pay around $6 per pound and feed two people per pound. That is an inexpensive meal if you ask me.
Mussels tend to hold grit and dirt in their shells, so you first need to clean them before you cook them. Fill the sink with cold water and then submerge the mesh bags. One by one scrubbed the outside of each mussel with a soft bristle brush like the one you would use to clean a potato, checking for cracked, chipped or open mussels to discard. If it's open, you can tap it on the counter or thump it and if the mussel is still alive, it will close up. If the mussel remains open, you should toss it.
To give you an idea of how often this occurred, we purchased six pounds (three 2 lb bags) and tossed about 15 mussels.
The other thing you should look for when you are cleaning these little guys are strings hanging off. They are called "beards" and should be torn off by pulling the string towards the hinge of the mussel.
One last trick to get your mussels squeaky clean is to stir a handful of flour into a bowl of clean water. As you scrub each mussel, add it to the flour water, and this helps the mussels expel the sand and grit inside their shell. After 20 minutes, rinse the mussels in a bowl of clean water. Farm raised mussels will have considerably less sand and grit as mussels from the sea.
Creating the Broth
This is where the magic happens. This broth is very important because it will cook and steam the mussels and will also be poured over the mussels to serve, providing a rich sauce for dipping bread.
In a heavy bottomed dutch oven, add two tablespoons of olive oil and an equal amount of butter. When it has melted over medium heat, add 1/2 cup of minced shallots and three minced garlic cloves. Stir this around until fragrant, about two minutes.
Add one cup of chicken stock, diced tomatoes and anywhere from 1-2 cups of good white wine. "Good" wine refers to a bottle that you would also drink on its own.
Cooking the mussels
Bring the broth to a boil, and then add the drained mussels, close the lid tightly and let it boil/steam for five minutes.
After five minutes, stir the mussels around in the sauce, add a splash of cream, two tablespoons of chopped parsley, the zest of a lemon, the juice of the lemon, salt, and pepper to taste. Cover again and let this cook for one more minute, then turn the burner off.
Pour the mussels and all the broth into a wide shallow bowl so guests can serve themselves or eat family style (my preference). Provide an empty bowl to discard shells.
A must for your mussels feast is a lovely white wine and a big loaf of crusty bread. Alternatively you could serve shoestring french fries and aioli dipping sauce, or boil fettuccine and toss the hot pasta in the broth, ladling the mussels on top of individual bowls.