Mussels with White Wine, Garlic and Herbs

A simple dish that feels celebration worthy, these mussels are ready in a flash.  Don't forget the crusty bread to soak up this dreamy sauce. Date night in just got a whole lot easier. 

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This is probably going to sound strange, but mussels are one of those dishes that bring back lots of fond memories.  Summer family vacations on the Cape when the rest of us would "force" my (mostly vegetarian) sister to "just try one." Random weeknight dates with my (now) husband for moules frittes (and a crisp Belgium beer) when we lived in the city. A big pot of mussels paired with wine and a bunch of friends sitting around our tiny kitchen table in our Brookline apartment. The humble mussel -- who would of thought it could be the center of so many good times?

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For a long time, I wouldn't have dreamed of making them at home. It always felt a little intimidating -- like something I could easily mess up (or send someone to the hospital with food poisoning. I thank my slightly crazy Food Service professor for those nightmares). It turns out that mussels are actually one of the easiest seafood options to cook.  They are quick, you know when they're done (no guessing games - either they're open or closed), and they bring a lot of flavor to the table. These mussels come together in about 20 minutes, making them the perfect meal for anyone who doesn't want to fuss in the kitchen, but wants to serve up a restaurant worthy experience. They speak to the importance of using just a few quality ingredients while not over-doing things. Whether it's date-night-in or a gathering of a bunch of friends,  a big pot of mussels in this want-to-lick-the-bowl kinda sauce is the answer.

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Let's talk quickly about this sauce. You  might be thinking: Butter? On a dietitian's website? Here's the thing: sometimes there is just no substitute for that rich and creamy flavor of real butter. Get the good stuff and a little really goes a long way. Really, no substitutes here. None of that fake stuff. And oil on its own just doesn't quite do it.  Just don't go overboard, ok? The rest of this sauce relies on some good fresh herbs, a BIG splash of crisp white wine, and lots of garlic and shallot. Don't forget the crusty bread for dipping. You're going to want it. 

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One of the fun parts about mussels is you can just bring the pot right over to the table, drop in a big spoon and let everyone serve themselves family style. Put out a few bottles of wine and you've got yourself a party. A simple arugula salad with a lemony dressing is a nice complement too. 

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Are you on board yet? Yes? Ok good. There are a few things you want to know about steaming mussels before you dive in: 

  1. It's going to sound like a lot, but plan on about 1lb of mussels per person for a main dish. More for big eaters. You can halve that for an appetizer. 
  2. Buy them the day you are going to cook them. You don't want mussels sitting in your fridge for multiple days. One day might be OK, but I am always a little wary of day-old shellfish. When storing them (between the time you bring them home and are ready to cook), put them in a bowl with a wet towel loosely covering them. Make sure they can "breath." If you suffocate them by closing them in a plastic bag or container, they are no longer OK to eat -- yes you want them alive when they go in the pot. Try not to think about it. 
  3. You are going to have to "debeard" them. Yes, mussels have these (not so cute) little "beards," which are basically like a tiny ball of hair on one side of the shell, which attaches to the foot inside. To do so, just tug really hard until it separates from the mussel. If you can't get it all, you can trim it with kitchen scissors (just watch out for what's left on the inside while you're eating them). I usually give this job to my husband -- feel free to outsource to anyone who has offered to help in the kitchen. 
  4. They cook faster than you think they will. Once most of them are open, it's time to serve. Like, immediately. There will probably be a few that don't open. Just discard those. Don't force them open or wait until every single mussel has opened. If you do, the rest will overcook and be chewy. Chewy/rubbery mussels are not good. Trust me. 
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Mussels with White Wine, Garlic, and Herbs
Ingredients
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium shallot, diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • A big splash of white wine (anywhere from 1/2 cup - 1 cup, depending on your preference)
  • 5-6 stems of thyme
  • 1-2 Tbsp oregano, roughly chopped (again, depending on your preference)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 lbs mussels
  • 2-3 Ttbsp parsley, roughly chopped, for serving
  • 1 small loaf crusty bread like french or sourdough for serving
Instructions
Clean and de-beard mussels. Set aside.Heat butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large pot or dutch oven. Once butter is melted, add shallot and cook for 1-2 minutes, until it begins to soften. Turn heat to low. Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds - 1 minute, until fragrant. Carefully add wine (I recommend tipping the pot and pouring it down the side of the pot so that it doesn't burn the garlic or shallot). Add the herbs, salt, and pepper and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Carefully add mussels to pot. Cover and let steam until the mussels have opened. Stirring after 3-4 minutes so they cook evenly. They should open in 8-10 minutes, but keep an eye on them as sometimes they open more quickly. Top with freshly chopped parsley. Serve immediately with warm crusty bread, family style. -----------------Serves 2 as a main, 4 as an appetizer
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 2-4 servings
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