Whether we're talking about a dinner party or a quick weeknight meal, it doesn't get much better than a giant bowl of steamed mussels. This dish has the kind of easy elegance and immediate gratification that I look for in both cases.
Today, I'm sharing my favorite, most basic method for quickly steaming a batch of mussels. It's simple — just mussels steamed with broth and white wine — but oh so very good!
Purchasing Your Mussels
Mussels are easy to farm and don't have a lot of the ecological downsides of many other farmed seafoods. As such, mussels are one of the best and most affordable seafoods out there. You can find mussels at almost any seafood counter these days, and they're generally a great choice.
When buying mussels, look for mussels that have tightly closed shells and that smell fresh and briny like the ocean. One or two cracked shells isn't a huge concern (it happens!), but if the majority of the mussels are open or show cracked shells, move on to another batch — these are signs that the mussels are old or have been poorly handled.
Storing the Mussels Until Cooking
Mussels are living creatures, and they're still alive when you buy them at the store. They're best if you can cook them close to when you buy them, but they'll be fine for a few days in the fridge.
If you need to store them, place the mussels inside a bowl big enough to hold all of them. Cover the bowl with a damp dishtowel or paper towel to keep the mussels protected and moist, and store in the fridge. The mussels need to breathe, so don't store them in an airtight container or in water. They may release a little liquid into the bowl; this is fine.
Mussels & Food Safety
Freshly purchased mussels that are prepared properly pose very little food safety risk. Before cooking, look over the mussels carefully. The mussels should be tightly closed. Discard any mussels with cracked shells. If you see a mussel that is open, tap it gently against the counter; in a live mussel, this will trigger a reaction to close its shell. If the mussel doesn't close, it has died and should be discarded. Also discard any mussels that don't open after cooking.
This might sound a little scary, but trust your instincts. Follow this simple advice: before cooking, shells closed; after cooking, shells open.
Steamed Mussels, Your Way
This basic recipe is delicious all on its own — a word that I don't use lightly. I still make mussels just like this all the time.
When you're in the mood to experiment, use this recipe as a template. As long as you have some sort of liquid to steam the mussels, you can do anything. Use beer or cider as the liquid; add fennel or lemongrass or any other vegetable to the base. A spoonful of curry paste or a sprinkle of spices can take the dish in another direction entirely.
Do you love steamed mussels? What are your favorite ways to make them?
Rinse the mussels in a strainer and check them over. All the mussels should be tightly closed.
How To Make Steamed Mussels
Serves 4 to 6
What You Need
3 to 4 pounds mussels
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter, or a mix
2 medium shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup white wine, amber beer, cider, or more broth
Minced parsley, to garnish
Lemon wedges, to garnish
Crusty bread, like baguette or ciabatta, to serve
Saucepan with lid
Check over the mussels: Rinse the mussels in a strainer and check them over. All the mussels should be tightly closed. Discard any mussels with cracked shells. If the shell is open, tap the mussel lightly against the counter; if the shell doesn't close in a few minutes, discard the mussel.
Debeard the mussels: Many commercial mussels will already be debearded, but it's good to check them anyway. Look for a group of short brown strings coming out the mussel on one side where the two halves of the shell close — this is the "beard." Grip these strings with your fingers or a pair of tweezers and tug gently from side to side. As you tug, the strings will pull out and detach from the shell. It's ok if you don't remove all of the beard or if you miss the beard on a few mussels; it's not harmful to eat, just tough and not very pleasant. (For more instructions, see How To Clean and Debeard Mussels.)
Sauté the shallots and garlic: Warm the butter or olive oil over medium-high heat in the saucepan (if using butter, let it melt completely). Add the minced shallots and garlic. Sauté until the shallots are translucent and the garlic is fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the mussels: Pour all of the mussels into the pot.
Add the broth and wine: Pour the broth and wine over the mussels.
Cover and cook: Immediately cover the pan with the lid. Cook with the lid on for 5 minutes. Shake the pan once or twice during cooking, with the lid still on, to distribute the mussels.
Check the mussels: After 5 minutes, remove the lid and check the mussels. Nearly all the mussels should be open by now. If not, cover and cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Discard any mussels that haven't opened after this time.
Serve the mussels: Serve the mussels straight from the pan or pour the mussels and the broth into a serving bowl. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and squeeze with lemon. Serve with crusty bread for mopping up the broth.
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(Image credits: Leela Cyd)