Here in the United States, mussels have a bad reputation as being a “lesser” shellfish. I happen to disagree. True, they may have a less intense flavor than clams or oysters, and they sure like to turn into a rubbery / chewy mess with a quickness, but with the right amount of care you can make something remarkable. And to top it all off, mussels can be found for relatively cheap compared to their more popular cousins.
This preparation is a Provençal (SE coast of France) dish. The “à la marinière” part of this dish translates to “mariner’s style”, which is when shellfish is prepared with white wine and herbs. Although the white wine really enhances the mussels’ taste, I like to think that it’s the butter and cream that really do the trick. Either way, you’re in for a treat.
5-7 lbs live mussels
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 shallots, chopped finely
8 cloves garlic, chopped finely or pressed
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 cups white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 bay leaf
salt/pepper to taste
While I generally prefer wild-caught seafood, it’s actually better to get farm-raised mussels when you can. They are raised on ropes that are suspended above the sea floor; this makes them less gritty than wild mussels that are dredged from the ocean floor. Most seafood watch lists prefer farmed mussels since dredging up mussels can damage the ocean’s eco system. Farm-raised mussels are a little more expensive, but they’re still cheaper than most other shellfish.
Because this dish is relatively quick to put together, you definitely want to have everything prepped and ready to go ahead of time. The most time consuming part of the dish is getting the mussels ready for steaming.
To prepare your mussels, scrub them with a brush and “de-beard” them. To do so, grab the “beard” (the strings that hang out of thicker side of the mussel) and yank it out. If it doesn’t come out, you can pull as much out as you can and cut it off with a paring knife. Here is a good video on how to clean mussels. Be sure to discard any open or cracked mussels. Place the mussels in a large pot and set aside.
Melt 2 tbsp of your butter in a pan on medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until they soften, about three minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for about 30 seconds, until they are aromatic.
Add the wine and bay leaf, and allow it to simmer on med/low heat for five minutes, until the garlic and shallots are all floating at the surface.
Pour your wine sauce on top of the mussels in a pot, cover and steam on high heat for 5-8 minutes, until the mussels are all opened. Stir the mussels around halfway through cooking. When they are opened, take each of them out with tongs (drain what liquid you can out of them) and place them in a large bowl.
Once the mussels are out of the pot, reduce the heat to med/high and stir in the cream, parsley, and the rest of the butter (remove the bay leaf). Simmer for about two minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. When it tastes awesome, pour it over your bowl of mussels and serve immediately.
This dish is traditionally served with crusty bread to mop up the sauce, but you can also serve it over a bed of rice.