As impressive as the finished product may seem, mussels are one of the easiest things in the world to cook. Not only do they require a bare minimum of ingredients, they also take mere minutes to throw together—about 10 minutes TOTAL, start to finish. This is my favorite way to eat mussels—plump and juicy, doused in butter, white wine, and garlic, with plenty of fresh, crusty bread to sop up the sauce. They also make a great main course when tossed with pasta. I recommend about a half pound per person as an appetizer or in pasta, or a full pound per person if you’re going to go to town on them (it’s easy to scale the recipe up or down). This is also a great meal for one!
When buying mussels, you want to make sure they’re still alive, AKA closed up tight. If a mussel is open and doesn’t close when you rap it sharply on the shell, it is dead. Toss it. It’s best to get them the day you’re eating them, but if you have to store them a couple of days, do so in a shallow bowl with a damp paper towel on top in the fridge. Don’t seal them off from air, or they will die, and you’ll have to throw them out.
For a pound of mussels, you will need:
3 T butter
3 garlic cloves
1 smallish shallot (about the size of half a Twinkie)
1 C dry white wine
1 pound mussels
4 sprigs of flat leaf (Italian) parsley
crusty bread, for serving
And, just in case:
1/4 tsp oyster sauce
1/2 a lemon
This recipe comes together pretty quickly, so get everything ready, first.
Finely dice the shallot. Smash the garlic with the side of your knife to easily take off the peel, then mince it finely. Glide your knife along the parsley stems to easily take off the leaves, then julienne them (cut them into tiny strips). Measure out the rest of your ingredients.
Find a largeish sauté pan with a lid, and set it on the stove. Add the butter to the pan.
Now everything is ready– go ahead and clean your mussels. They should be relatively clean already, but if they feel gritty, you may want to scrub them. If not, just rinse them a few times in water. If any have beards on them (a seaweed-y looking string, you can see one on my pre-cleaned mussels, below) use a paring knife to slide them toward the hinge and pull while cutting them as close to the shell as possible.
Now you’re ready to start!
Start your butter melting over medium heat. Once it’s all melted and bubbling, add the shallot. Give it about one minute, and it will start to smell delicious and get opaque. My shallots went a little long because I got a phone call and forgot about them, so they almost fried a little. Yours should not be as brown. (If they are brownish, don’t worry, they’ll still be tasty).
When the shallots are getting opaque, add your garlic. Stir it in and let it cook about 30 seconds, or until you can smell it. DO NOT overcook the garlic. It shouldn’t be brown at ALL, just fragrant.
Add the wine to the pot and let it come to a simmer.
Now you can add the mussels and cover the pot.
Wait about one minute, then pop off the top of the pan. If any mussels have opened, remove them to your serving bowl. If not, shake the pan a bit, cover for 30 seconds, and check again. Once the mussels start to open, they will all follow suit pretty quickly. Continue pulling out opened mussels and agitating the pan a little. This shouldn’t take longer than 2-3 minutes. If you have a few holdouts, go ahead and give them an extra 30 seconds or so, but if they don’t open by then, they were likely bad. Toss them.
NOW you should have a pan of sauce and a bowl full of steamy mussels. Taste the sauce in the pan. If it needs a little acid, squeeze the lemon half into it. If it’s missing that briny sea flavor and all you can taste is wine, add ¼ tsp oyster sauce. I almost always add a touch of oyster sauce—if you’re cooking your mussels perfectly and pulling them out when they open, they don’t get much of a chance to add sea flavor to the broth, since they’re keeping all their juice inside.
Once your sauce is perfect, add the parsley.
Give it a quick stir, then immediately pour the sauce over the mussels. Serve with crusty bread for dipping, and a bowl for depositing spent shells. MARVEL at the speed with which you just made this delicious meal, and enjoy every last bite!