Easy Mussels with Olive Oil Garlic Bread
The best part of these easy mussels is that they might just make you feel like you’re dining at a sidewalk café in Paris, particularly if you pour yourself a glass of the white wine you popped open for cooking. Plus, it’s easy to make and creates a lip-smacking broth so good you’ll want to sop it up with the garlicky baguette you made while the mussels steamed on the stove top.
The worst thing about this dish is that some folks at your table may be unsure of a big pot of shiny black mollusks as their main course.
A Family-Friendly Option
An evening in Paris? I’d say it’s worth the risk. Plus, your dining mates might at least try them, and possibly even like them. Mussels are sort of strange, and messy and fun to eat. And consider the fact that in France and Belgium they are thought to be quite a family friendly food eaten most commonly with that other kid favorite: French fries.
Here is the U.S. mussels aren’t so popular for the everyday table. They’re even considered a little bit fancy by some, which is odd because they’re widely available, pretty inexpensive and a no-brainer to cook.
A Sustainable Seafood
Mussels are also sustainable. The country’s supply is almost entirely from farmed sources that get a “Best Choice” stamp of approval from the folks at Seafood Watch. And here’s more good news: mussels can have a positive impact on the environment. According to a paper published by the Yale School of the Environment, bivalves, such as mussels, oysters, and clams, have the potential to effectively purify the waterways in which they grow.
Are Mussels Healthy?
Yes! They are low in calories and fat and rich in protein. They also provide an enormous dose of vitamin B12, a pretty good hit of Omega 3 fats, and more than 100 percent of your daily needs for selenium and manganese.
How to Clean Mussels
Before you make these mussels, you have to clean them. Here’s how I do it:
- Immerse the mussels in a bowl of cold water. One by one, scrub off any dirt or debris off each mussel. You can use a brush or even just an agressive rub with your thumbs. Pull or trim off any of the hairy threads, called the beard, that may be jutting from the sealed shell.
- Be sure to throw out any mussels that are open or have cracked shells. You can try tapping an opened mussel on the counter. If it closes up, it’s fine to eat. If not, toss it.
- Once you’ve cleaned all the mussels, put them in a colander and rinse well. Cover with a dish towel and store in the fridge until you’re ready to cook.
Can I Make Easy Mussels Ahead of Time?
Steaming the mussels and browning the baguette should be done just before you eat, but here are a few things you can do ahead:
- Wash and refrigerate the mussels.
- Make the garlic/wine broth. You can leave that on the stove for a few hours. Just heat it up before you add the mussels.
- Prep the bread. Feel free to rub it with garlic and brush it with oil up to an hour ahead of time.
As for what to serve with mussels, I keep it simple. That’s sort of the beauty of this dish. It’s always crusty bread, which is essential for the gorgeous pan juices. And always a big, seasonal salad. In winter, I’ll do butter or little gem lettuce, shaved fennel, shaved radishes, and this vinaigrette (I usually add a teaspoon or so of minced shallot). In summer, I’ll make a chopped Romaine salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, and a balsamic vinaigrette. I also like a Kale Caesar like this one.
If these mussels are new to the kids (or grown ups) at your table, here are a few suggestions:
- Serve them with little fanfare and heavy up on the side dishes (a pile of golden baguette never hurts).
- Cut the amount of mussels down by a third or a half and add medium, unpeeled shrimp or another familiar, quick cooking seafood to the pot as well.
- Bring your kids into the kitchen to assist with meal prep. This may boost their interest.
At the very least, invite them to help fish the mussels out of their shells for you at the dinner table. Hey, they may just surprise you by actually eating one, or even one bowl full.
Mussels in White Wine and Garlic
This is a simple, rustic dish that is easy to do for a weeknight, but also festive enough to serve to company. Feel free to tinker with the ingredients, using more chili if you like or cutting it out all together. I sometimes add a big handful of halved cherry tomatoes when they are in season. I've also made this with slices of Spanish chorizo. You can add either of those at the same time you add the wine. And a half of diced fresh fennel is tasty, too. Sauté it along with the onion.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 1 1/4 cups dry white wine
- 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes (more if you like it spicier)
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 3 1/2 pounds fresh mussels
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Salt to taste
- 1/3 cup chopped parsley (optional)
Crusty Garlic Bread
- 1 baguette
- 2 cloves garlic
- Olive oil
For the Mussels
Cover the mussels in a large bowl of cold water. Use your thumbs to slough off any dirt or debris. If the mussels have hairy tendrils jutting from the shell, called the beard, pull or cut them off. Discard any open mussels. Transfer the mussels to a colander and rinse well under cold water. Put in a bowl, cover with a dish towel, and return to the fridge.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high. Add the onion and sauté until tender and translucent, about five minutes.
While the onion cooks, peel and thinly slice the garlic. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté another minute or so. Add the wine, tomato paste, crushed red chili, and fennel seeds, and stir so the tomato blends into the sauce. Adjust the heat so the liquid simmers. Simmer for a few minutes more to cook off the alcohol and bring the flavors together.
Add the mussels, turn the heat to high, and cover the pot or pan with a lid or a tight seal of aluminum foil. Stir the mussels from time to time, cooking them until the shells open, about 5 minutes.
Once the mussels open, add the butter and stir the mussels, so it melts into the broth. Taste the broth and add salt, a good pinch at a time, until it tastes well seasoned. Sprinkle parsley over the top.
For the Bread
Turn on an oven broiler or grill.
Split the baguette in half lengthwise. Rub the whole cloves of garlic over the surface of each half. Brush the surface with olive oil and add a few good pinches of salt. Set the bread, cut-side-up, under a broiler or cut-side-down on a grill. Cook until crisp around the edges for a broiler or or blistered with grill marks for a grill. Cut into pieces.
Serve as soon as the mussels are done. Spoon into bowls, being sure to include some of the broth. Serve the bread on the side