Steamed Mussels

A delicious and visually exotic dish – but really easy to prepare. It’s getting your hands on high quality fresh mussels which can be a challenge.

If you don’t live near where wild mussels are available for harvest you’ll have to buy them. This recipe is for fresh, live mussels. Unlike wild mussels, “farmed” mussels have essentially no grit, are easier to clean, and are still essentially raised in the wild.

If you’re not experienced at buying, storing or preparing mussels, be sure to carefully read the notes at the bottom.

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Steamed Mussels Yum
About 2 lbs live weight per adult should be plenty if served as the entrée. If it's an appetizer, or well accompanied with salad and sides, maybe 3/4 lb per adult. It differs among species and time of year — but blue mussels have roughly 20% meat weight to live weight.

Nearly all of the time needed to make this is in prep — the cooking part goes super quick. So have all of your ingredients measured and staged (mise-en-place) before starting the cook.
Servings
lbs
Ingredients
  • 5 lbs fresh live mussels — Costco often has 5# bags of farmed PEI blue mussels for about $12. Sweet, tender, mild, and no grit. Maybe too mild for some folks who prefer a stronger hint of the sea.
  • 4 cloves sliced or minced fresh garlic — Minced is ok, but thin sliced, or shaved using a mini-mandolin is a great presentation, especially if lightly coated in fat and browned in an air fryer prior to sautéing.
  • 2 Whole shallots — Same story as the garlic (above), except Optionally salt after cutting.
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme — Maybe more. Stripped off of stem. If you don't have fresh, dry is better than nothing.
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine — e.g. Sauvignon Blanc. No need to get fancy, 2 Buck Chuck is fine.
  • 3 lemons — zested and juiced
  • 1 cup Stock (seafood or poultry) — Home-made if at all possible. Seafood seems more in theme, but home-made poultry stock tends to have more body.
  • 1 tsp salt — May be best to add to warmed stock, and adjust to taste during prep. This would ensure best distribution of salt to the mussel meat.
  • 2 each fresh jalapeno pepper — Optional. Seeded and diced fine. Quantity based on heat, which varies WIDELY among jalapenos. Might be better to use poblanos for texture, and predictable cayenne powder for heat.
  • 1 big pinch crushed red pepper flakes — Does not add much heat and looks nice.
  • 1 large tomato diced — Homegrown or farmers market if possible. Double if small tomatoes.
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf (italian) parsley — chopped fresh
  • 2 Tbsp butter
Servings
lbs
Ingredients
  • 5 lbs fresh live mussels — Costco often has 5# bags of farmed PEI blue mussels for about $12. Sweet, tender, mild, and no grit. Maybe too mild for some folks who prefer a stronger hint of the sea.
  • 4 cloves sliced or minced fresh garlic — Minced is ok, but thin sliced, or shaved using a mini-mandolin is a great presentation, especially if lightly coated in fat and browned in an air fryer prior to sautéing.
  • 2 Whole shallots — Same story as the garlic (above), except Optionally salt after cutting.
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme — Maybe more. Stripped off of stem. If you don't have fresh, dry is better than nothing.
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine — e.g. Sauvignon Blanc. No need to get fancy, 2 Buck Chuck is fine.
  • 3 lemons — zested and juiced
  • 1 cup Stock (seafood or poultry) — Home-made if at all possible. Seafood seems more in theme, but home-made poultry stock tends to have more body.
  • 1 tsp salt — May be best to add to warmed stock, and adjust to taste during prep. This would ensure best distribution of salt to the mussel meat.
  • 2 each fresh jalapeno pepper — Optional. Seeded and diced fine. Quantity based on heat, which varies WIDELY among jalapenos. Might be better to use poblanos for texture, and predictable cayenne powder for heat.
  • 1 big pinch crushed red pepper flakes — Does not add much heat and looks nice.
  • 1 large tomato diced — Homegrown or farmers market if possible. Double if small tomatoes.
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf (italian) parsley — chopped fresh
  • 2 Tbsp butter
Instructions
  1. No more than a few hours before cooking, lightly rinse and scrub under cold running water, pulling off visible beards and checking for damaged or partially open shells (there are always some). Discard all with damaged shells. If the mussel is not completely closed, tap on a hard surface and set aside in your field of vision while you keep working. If they close (a few seconds up to a minute) they are fine. If not they should be discarded — there are usually a few. Store chilled until ready to cook. DO NOT store them sealed in a plastic bag - they are alive and still need air.
  2. Optionally oil and roast garlic slices until nicely browned. A toaster oven or air fryer works great, but an oven will do.
  3. Sautee shallot, garlic and thyme in olive oil or clarified butter in a stockpot or large pan over medium heat. A 14" pan is just right for 5# of mussels. A 12" would not handle much more than 3# of mussels.
  4. Turn heat to high, add mussels and quickly give them a good stir. Or even a toss if you're a show-off and someone else has to clean the range.
  5. Add stock, wine, lemon juice, lemon zest, red pepper flakes and jalapeno. Toss or stir.
  6. Cover and steam 5 minutes. No longer.
  7. Add tomato, parsley and butter. Toss or stir. Cover and steam one more minute.
  8. Remove from heat, transfer to bowls (or one large bowl if family style) and serve immediately. Optionally serve sides of the liquid in ramekins or small bowls for dipping bread.
  9. Optionally save and freeze any leftover liquid in 1 cup portions. Think of it as mussel stock. It is very flavorful, and a great substitute for water in things like ramen noodles. You could strain it first, but leaving the solids in leaves you the option to decide later whether to leave in the chunky bits. I like them left in.
Recipe Notes

Serving mussels:
Serve with dipping bread. Best is sourdough baguette sliced on the bias and lightly toasted - just enough so they aren't too crumbly and still have a little "chew". Serve "family style" in a big bowl with tongs, or serve in individual bowls. Have a ready supply of napkins, and a bowl for the shells.

Save the Leftovers! Do not toss leftover broth! It is pure gold. It has a short shelf life, but if you ladle it into ziplock bags and squeeze out the air it will be fine in the freezer for months. I use it instead of water when making a packet of shrimp ramen. It. Is. Unbelievable. If you have leftover mussels, pop the meat out of the shells and use in a day or two, or freeze for later use. Maybe for a mussel po' boy with remoulade?

Buying mussels:
Shop carefully, with an eye on quality as much as price. Before I stumbled on Costco mussels I'd had several less-than-satisfying experiences. In restaurants, they can be stupid expensive for the tiny portions you are served - and sometimes have a stronger flavor than I enjoy. Purchasing them fresh from seafood counters has also been expensive and with spotty quality. When I started seeing PEI (Prince Edward Island) farmed mussels at Costco in 5 lb bags for not much over $2/lb, I gave them a try. I'm hooked. They are extremely clean, high quality, and well-marked for freshness. Each bag is labeled with harvest date, wet stored date, packaged date, and sell-by date.

Storing mussels:
Mussels should be alive when cooked. Once harvested the clock is ticking. They should be stored very chilled, with air circulating around them. They should not be submerged in water. Unless the store is only a few minutes from your house, I'd even have a cooler and ice waiting in your car while shopping. Perfect storage is in the refrigerator in a mesh bag placed in an open container with a mesh or drilled bottom that drains, placed in something to catch the liquid. Even better, the bag can be covered with crushed ice. With shellfish, it is safest to consider the "sell by" date the "serve-by" date. But best is to buy them as close as possible to when you plan to cook them. The fresher the better.

Prepping mussels:
Inspect and clean them shortly before cooking - no more than a few hours before. It takes me about 15 minutes for 5 lbs. I normally wind up discarding around 5%-10%. Rinse in cold running water, feeling for cracks (discard), checking whether it appears fully closed (if not give it a firm tap on a hard surface - if it doesn't close within a minute discard). Pop off any barnacles using something dull like a spoon or a butter knife. You can also lightly scrub, though that is less necessary for farmed mussels. If there is a "beard" (visible ropy strands protruding from near the hinge), remove it. Best is to grab the mussel in one hand, grab the beard with your other hand using something like a paper towel so it doesn't slip, and sharply jerk downwards at a 90° angle to the "lips", resulting in a clean tear that does not much disturb the live mussel inside. Pulling it straight out will remove the portion in the shell that is connected to the muscle, which can be stressful on the mussel and some may not survive as long. That is ok if you are cooking immediately.

One optional tweak I have not yet tried, but know is well-loved in many mussel recipes: substitute heavy cream for the stock.

View online at KillerNoms.com/mussels

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