Sometimes, for no good reason at all, I like to make slightly fancy dinners. Excuses range from “this was on sale in the meat department” to “I have a few hours free and this sounds fun to make.” The first time I made mussels, Chad came home to find a big dinner on the table and candles lit and he momentarily freaked thinking that he had forgotten our anniversary. But really I just realized that day that mussels are cheap. Seriously. At our grocery store mussels are 2 lbs for $5 and after doing some research I learned that they are often sustainably raised. And somehow I always thought of them, as I often do with seafood, as expensive and fussy and difficult to make. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mussels are fast to make, hard to mess up, and really tasty. If you don’t eat pork or like bacon, forget about it. The mussels will still be yummy. Just add a pinch of salt to the wine to replace the saltiness of the bacon.
When buying mussels, make sure they are fresh and that your fishmonger doesn’t creep you out. Paranoid? Probably…but it’s fish! They should give you a mesh bag or a bag with holes since the mussels need to breathe. When you get them home, keep them in the fridge in a bowl with no water for up to 3 days. Water is the enemy here (as strange as that sounds). Keep them cold until you’re ready to use them.
2 lb mussels (or less since the two of us couldn’t finish this)
3 strips of bacon
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 C white wine (I used a Gewurztraminer)
pinch of saffron (this can be omitted but it tastes awesome)
Fry up the bacon in a dutch oven (or stock pot if you don’t have a dutch oven) until the bacon is crispy. Even if you don’t like your bacon crispy, it’s a must in this dish. Remove to a folded paper towel and pat dry.
While that’s going, rinse the mussels in cold water and toss out any that aren’t fully closed. If one is slightly opened, tap it on a hard surface and watch to see if it closes. If one is broken at all, it’s a no-go too. You don’t want bad mussels. Fo real.
For our 2 lb bag, we had 9 or so rejects. I made the horrible mistake of throwing these in the kitchen trash can and the next day I was severely punished. Use a separate bag. It’s the right thing to do.
Sauté some garlic and some onions or shallots if you feel so inclined) in the fat left from the bacon. If you’re not using bacon, just sauté in olive oil. After a couple minutes, add the wine and deglaze the bottom of the pot. Scrape up all those brown bits and cook the alcohol off. Sprinkle in the saffron and stir. Now sniff. It smells good, right?
Make sure the heat is at medium-high and dump in all the mussels. Immediately put the lid on and let them steam, undisturbed, for 15 minutes–just long enough for you to finish up some side dishes, toast some crusty bread, and break up all that bacon for the topping. When the 15 minutes are up, turn off the heat and pour the mussels and allllllll the sauce in a bowl. Or leave in the dutch oven if you are out of clean bowls. Top with bacon. Eat.
This is sooooo good. Chad had never had mussels before this and it was fun showing him how to use an empty shell to pinch like claws and get the meat from another. It’s fun and sort of like playing castanets! I especially love breaking off pieces of bread and dipping in the sauce in the bottom of the pot. I might love that sauce more than the mussels themselves.
Yet we couldn’t finish the whole pot. There were just too many! The fishmonger at the grocery store was new and didn’t know if he could open a 2 lb bag so he could give me just half (he can but I didn’t want to make him feel like he was going to get in trouble). So this whole thing can be done with fewer mussels and the same quantities of everything else. Figure 1/2 lb – 1 lb per person (depending how hungry you are).