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We love mussels. We love them with a clear broth or a tomato broth, baked or steamed, stuffed – even raw. What’s more, we like them with an Italian flair, or French, Spanish, Thai, or Mexican – we pretty much just like mussels.
I’ve eaten mussels so many times during my travels to Italy and France in particular, that they have become a favorite dish of mine when traveling. You can find them atop pasta, served on their own, paired with rice, or as part of a seafood extravaganza. Whether you are dining in the center of Rome or Paris, or on the seaside of Greece or Sicily, mussels are a dish you should definitely try while on a culinary tour of Italy, France, or pretty much any other place.
Mussels are an incredibly easy seafood to prepare. They may seem exotic, but you basically put them in a hot pan, cover, and leave for a few minutes. And that’s pretty much it.
Of course, what else you put in the pan will determine to a large degree how they taste. Here we’re using an Italian version, so it should be no surprise that there are only a few simple, pure ingredients harmoniously combined. You might notice we’ve omitted the tomatoes in this recipe, although you can find many Italian-style mussel dishes that include them. You could also easily change it up and go for any type of flavor profile you prefer, even combining it with meat like pancetta, chorizo, or jamon.
One of the best parts of a mussel dish is the broth at the bottom, which is an infusion of the mussels’ juice with whatever you’ve cooked them in. The result, when done right, is enough to bring tears to one’s eyes (or at least to mine – yes, I’ve wept over a spoonful of mussel broth before). The classic way of soaking up this broth is with crusty bread served on the side, but you can easily use a spoon for a gluten-free version.
A note on purchasing the mussels: don’t soak them when you get them home, just remove them from their packaging and place them in a bowl in the fridge lightly covered with a damp towel.
Explore more mussel dishes on a culinary adventure in Puglia.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Cook method: Saute/Steam
1. Wash the mussels shortly before you plan to cook them. Rinse them under cold water, brushing off any residual dirt or sand. If you notice any “beards” – those brown fibers that stick out – remove them by pulling them up toward the hinge and out. (Nothing can ruin a plate of mussels like not properly de-bearding them beforehand.)
2. Heat the olive oil in a large, wide skillet over medium heat. Saute the onions until soft and nearly translucent, then add the garlic, the red pepper flakes to taste (I use 1 large pinch, but it depends on how spicy the pepper flakes are), a pinch of salt, and half the parsley.
3. Sauté for a couple more minutes, then turn the flame to high and add the wine. Give it a quick stir, then add the mussels and cover.
4. The mussels will cook quickly – check them after about 2-3 minutes to see if they have opened. You might need to give the pan a shake and leave for 1-2 minutes more. Taste the broth and depending on your preferences add salt, additional red pepper, or a bit of lemon juice. Sprinkle with the rest of the parsley.
5. Serve in a large bowl or individually plated in smaller bowls, accompanied by some crusty Italian bread. Buon appetito!
Of course, the obvious pairing for this dish is an Italian white wine. We love it paired with a coastal variety, such as a Vermentino from Sardinia or a Gravina from Puglia.
I sometimes use a fresh chile such as a serrano or half a jalapeno instead of the red pepper flakes. It makes the dish spicier and decidedly less Italian, but sometimes that suits my mood. I hope you’ve learned that mussels are the perfect canvas for whatever flavors you prefer!
Try French variations of mussels on a culinary vacation in Provence.
If you’re looking for more recipes featuring this wonderful ingredient, please check out:
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Originally published May 20, 2020.