Today is my birthday. And the tradition in our family is that the birthday girl/boy gets to choose where they’d like to have their celebratory dinner. But this year I wanted to make my own birthday meal. Sometimes making your own birthday dinner is the very best way to go.
My favorite appetizer is mussels in wine sauce. When I order it at restaurants, sometimes I’m delighted. But other times I’m disappointed. You see, mussels themselves are not hard to make. You really can’t screw them up. It’s the sauce that makes or breaks the dish.
So instead of leaving it up to the restaurant gods, I decided to make my own mussels for my birthday dinner. You just don’t want to leave things to chance when you are talking about birthday dinners!
Ask your grocer or fish monger if the mussels are farm raised. If they are farm raised, then that means that they will not be sandy. No need to soak them. Also, farm raised mussels usually have the beards removed before they are bagged. So the takeaway is to look for farm raised mussels if you want less work.
If the mussels are straight from the wild, then they need to be soaked in a bowl of water that has some cornmeal in it. The mussels with suck in the cornmeal/water mixture which will purge the sand out of their system.
If you have three to four pounds of mussels, place them in a large bowl of cool water with about 1/2 cup of cornmeal mixed in. Let them sit in this bath for about 30-45 minutes. Dump the soiled water out and give the mussels a good scrub with a scrubber pad. Then you will be good to go.
The other issue people have is the fear of not recognizing dead mussels. To find the duds, look at the shells. Are they tightly closed? Those are the good ones. If they are open, give them a tap on the shell. If they close, they’re fine. If they stay open, toss them out.
That’s the basics of mussels. Not so scary, right?
Like I said earlier, the sauce is the thing that makes this dish sing. There’s not much to it, really. Garlic, shallots, wine, a little citrus. Some simple ingredients that make an extraordinary meal.
When you consider that mussels cost about $2.50 a pound, it blows my mind that restaurants charge as much as they do for this dish. A dish that takes just minutes to make. A quick sauce. A whirl around in a hot pan. And voilá! You have a mussels dish that will rival any restaurant’s offerings.
Now what are you waiting for? Go get a bag of mussels. And don’t forget the bread for soaking up the sauce. It’s the very best part.
- 4 lbs mussels
- 3 Tbsps butter
- 3 Tbsps olive oil
- ½ cup shallots, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
- ½ Tbsp dried thyme
- 1¼ cup white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
- ¾ cup chicken broth
- 2 Tbsps lemon juice
- 2 tsps kosher salt
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- A few good cranks of fresh ground black pepper
- ¼ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 Tbsp lemon zest
- Dump mussels into a large bowl and cover with cool water. Set aside.
- In a large heavy pot, heat butter and oil over medium heat. Cook shallots until translucent. About three minutes. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant. About another minute or two.
- Add tomatoes, thyme, white wine, broth, lemon juice, salt, red pepper and black pepper. Turn up heat to medium high and allow to come to a boil.
- Add mussels and cover. Cook for eight to ten minutes. Shake pan every now and again to move mussels around.
- Pour into bowl and garnish with parsley and lemon zest. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread to sop up garlic wine sauce.