A while back, I attended a business dinner at a trendy New York City restaurant. One of my colleagues was a middle-aged publishing executive with an ivy League education and a privileged upbringing. After scanning the menu he said; “I can’t believe how popular mussels have become recently. When I was a kid, nobody had ever heard of mussels, now they are everywhere”.
I almost dropped my menu upon hearing this. “What rock did you just crawl out from under?” I thought to myself. I’ve been eating mussels for as long as I can remember. They just happen to be one of my favorite foods. Growing up in an Italian American family, mussels were always a staple on our table.
My mother served steamed mussels for appetizers at family gatherings. Each year on Christmas eve, cold poached mussels in seafood salad would be our first course for the Festa Dei Sette Pesci (Feast of the Seven Fishes). Mussels fra diavola over linguine was my standard order as a kid whenever my family dined at our local Italian restaurant.
Mussels meuniere is my personal favorite recipe. I find the delicate balance of acidity created from dry white wine and creamy whole butter quite appealing. It serves as the perfect palate to showcase the sweet, briny flavor of the mussels.
The presentation offered below is a little more refined than the versions my family would serve. Back then, a big bowl of mussels was set on the table and everybody dug in. This approach takes a little longer to prepare, but it is worth the extra effort. I find using the mussel shells as spoons to scoop up the sauce a fun way to eat them.
- 1 ½ cups of dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon minced shallots
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 spring of parsley
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 2 lbs mussels scrubbed and de-bearded
- ¼ cup of heavy cream
- 4-6 tablespoons of butter
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon
Place the white wine, shallots, garlic, parsley and thyme in a sauce pan large enough to accommodate the mussels. Cover with a tight fitting lid. Bring contents of pan to a boil over high heat. Boil liquid for a minute then remove pan from heat. Let mixture seep covered for 5 minutes.
Add mussels to pan. Stir to coat them with the aromatic liquid. Bring the contents of the pan to a simmer over medium heat. Shake pan occasionally. Transfer each mussel from the pan into a bowl as their shells open and the meat inside contracts. Cover the bowl and keep them warm. When the last mussel has been removed from the pan, replace the lid and keep the remaining liquid warm.
Remove each mussel from their shell. Place them in a small bowl. Cover with foil and keep warm. Break mussel shells apart into two sections. Arrange half the shells on plate so the inside (mother of pearl side) faces up. Place the plate and shells in a preheated oven to keep warm.
Bring the pan of aromatic liquid back to a boil. Add the heavy cream. Lower heat and simmer gently for a few minutes until the mixture reduces slightly. Reduce heat to the lowest possible setting and whisk in butter, one pat at a time. Taste sauce after each pat of butter is incorporated into the sauce. Continue whisking in butter until the sauce is silky and the acidity from the wine is balance.
Remove plate of shells from the oven. Place one mussel in each shell. Pour sauce over mussels ensuring a little sauce collects in each shell. Sprinkle with chopped tarragon and serve with slices of crusty bread.