Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Recipe: Steamed Mussels in White Wine

My love of mussels has become a sort of inside joke amongst all my girlfriends. Whenever we go out for girls nights, if there are mussels somewhere on the menu, you can bet that I am ordering them. 

One of our favorite restaurants for our Thursday night tradition, Hundred Bar & Kitchen, has sadly changed their menu and drink specials. They used to have one of the best incarnations of steamed mussels; they were large and plump and served in a garlic and Gorgonzola cream sauce accompanied by perfectly seasoned fries. Hello delicious! What could be better than cream, garlic, and cheese, with fries on the side? Now they have a beer-steamed version with a house-made chorizo. It's a bit too bitter for my taste. The house made chorizo is dry, crumbly, and bland, and this dish is served with a pathetically dry piece of focaccia. Sad, sad day. On a side note, Hundred still continues to serve the most delicious mound of truffle fries topped with a massive amount of shaved Pecorino cheese. If you hadn't caught on yet, cover anything with cheese and I am in!

Steamed mussels
When I was in Belgium and France with a friend a few years ago, we ordered moules frites almost every day. The French do their mussels right! And of course, if you ask me, one of the very best ways to enjoy mussels is in the classic French style: steamed with white wine and lots of garlic. 

My love of wine is no secret. I always have at least a few bottles stashed around my apartment and chilling in the fridge. Some of the best advice I ever read about cooking with wine is this: don't cook with a wine that you wouldn't drink. Seriously good advice! I'm not saying you need to use a $45 bottle of sauvignon blanc, but don't use that cheap, cloudy-looking bottle that someone's spouse brought to your Mom's Christmas party two years ago either.

We have started buying the vacuum-packed 2.72 kg packages of mussels from Costco to satisfy my love of mussels at home. For just $12.99, this is a fantastic price! You get a ridiculous amount of mussels for less than the price of that delicious dish of mussels at your favorite restaurant. We always get at least 2+ meals out of this package or manage to feed 4 people. That accounts for my boyfriend's bottomless pit of a stomach as well. Pick up some good bread (or better yet, make it yourself) and a couple bottles of wine and you are set for a Saturday night at home.

Steamed Mussels in White Wine


For the mussels...

  • Fresh mussels, cleaned and de-bearded (see instructions below)
  • 6 large cloves of garlic
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • Salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/3 bottle of white wine (I like sauvignon blanc) *save the rest to enjoy with your meal!
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 cup diced cherry tomatoes

For the bread...
  • Fresh bread (I use the demi ciabatta loaves from costco)
  • Salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

*Note: I use half of the 2.72 kg costco vacuum-sealed package of mussels for this recipe. It comes divided into two attached packages, so I use one for this recipe and save one for making pasta the next night. Don't open the vacuum pack until you are ready to use them.

How to clean and de-beard mussels

Make sure your sink is clean before you start. Fill your sink about 1/4 full of cold water. Gently pour the mussels into the sink. Be careful as you do not want to damage them. Allow them to sit for at least half an hour, 45 minutes is even better. During this time they are sucking in the clean water and expelling sand. You'll see the sand collect at the bottom of your sink.

Clean mussels ready to be cooked
Pick up each individual mussel and give them a quick rinse in cold tap water. Discard any that appear damaged, cracked, broken. or just don't quite look right. If they are open, gently tap on them with a utensil. If they start to close back up, they are fine. If they stay open, discard them.

If the mussel has a "beard" on it (green stringy stuff hanging out of it), grab the beard as close to the shell as possible and gently pull on it to remove. If it is not easily dislodging, move the beard back and forth to allow the shell to basically slice it. 

Place each clean mussel in a bowl with about 1 inch of water in the bottom. 

Cooking Directions

Make sure you have a large, heavy pot with a fitted lid. A glass lid works best because you can watch the mussels steam without having to lift the lid, allowing the steam to escape. Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees to toast your bread.

In the bottom of your pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the diced onion and season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes. You can omit the chili flakes altogether if you're not a fan of heat or add more depending on your tastes.

Saute the onions until translucent and add the garlic. Allow the garlic to cook for about 1 minute.

Pour in about 1/3 of a bottle of your white wine and allow it to come to a simmer, about 1 minute.

Gently pour the mussels into the pot along with the water from the bottom of the bowl. Increase to medium-high heat. Cover with your glass lid and allow the mussels to steam, gently shaking the pot once or twice.

Resist the temptation to open that lid and peek inside the pot! The mussels should slowly pop open from the steam, taking about 5-6 minutes. 

Take your pot off the heat and transfer the mussels to a large bowl with a slotted spoon. Discard any that did not open. Top with your diced cherry tomatoes.

This next step is entirely gratuitous, you could just pour all the broth right over the mussels and enjoy it right then and there.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a smaller pot and pour the liquid from the bottom of your mussel pot into the butter pot. Pour slowly, leaving behind some of the sand that has settled at the bottom of the pot. You can discard that.

Let the broth come to a boil and reduce, about 2-3 minutes. Pour over the steaming bowl of mussels and enjoy with crusty bread and some more white wine!

Steaming up my camera!


The most important thing is that the bread is fresh and crusty. Beyond that, do as you want with your bread.

I like to buy the demi ciabatta loaves at costco and toast them in the oven with some olive oil. This is totally unnecessary, but here's how we like our bread. I do this while the mussels are steaming on the stove.

Mix 3 tablespoons of olive oil with dried oregano.

Slice the ciabatta loaves in half and brush with olive oil and oregano. Lightly sprinkle with pepper and just a pinch of sea salt.

Toast at 450 degrees for about 5 minutes until golden brown and crunchy. Use the bread to sop up all of that delicious broth!