Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mussels and Wine Feast

I had not eaten mussels until last week when a friend and I met at Vino Vino, a local wine bar in Austin and shared a bowl of mussels in white wine sauce topped with french fries and a dollop of herby hollandaise sauce. It was spectacular, I couldn't believe how delicious the mussels were. I absolutely loved dipping the crusty bread that accompanied our dish into the flavorful juice in the bottom of the bowl. I felt sad that I had missed out on this experience for so long. Jim has ordered them before in restaurants, but my fear of shellfish and eating something that looks like the actual animal (ex: crawfish, peel and eat shrimp, frog legs) kept me from being adventurous.

For food this tasty, I thought I could overcome my fear and just go for it. What better way to take on something new and experiment in the kitchen than surrounding yourself with hungry friends? If the dish bombed, we could always order Chinese takeout or pizza delivery. My mom is cringing right now. She always told me never to try new recipes on friends or for a special event or holiday.

Our awesome friends Chip and Shelley had us over to their new home for a night of poker and I brought all the ingredients to share a Mussels and Wine Feast. Why is it always so much fun to cook in someone elses kitchen?

Jim really loves to play Texas Hold 'em and he is trying to teach me. I've played about six times and enjoy it also, but I still need my cheat sheet to remind me the denominations of the chips and also the order of the hands.

I just had to post picks of their home  Isn't their house beautiful? They have a gorgeous mix of modern and shabby chic furniture with a variety of textures in black, white and a luscious lavender.

How cool are they? I don't think I could ever pull off a brilliantly lacquered moose head in my living room. And the flat screen on the wall...it is on an arm that can swivel out and turn towards the kitchen. How sweet is that?!?!

This chandelier over their dining table may be my favorite piece in the room, it is to. die. for. I love it!

We had such a fun time taking their money playing Texas Hold 'em. I don't always know what I'm doing, but I did a pretty good job of bluffing my way through the game.

Even though Jim is the better gambler of the two of us, I held my own. The real winners of the night were the mussels, let me show you how we did them.

What was hard for me wrap my brain around was that these are ALIVE when you buy them...and you need to keep them alive until you cook them. They need to be able to breath, either unwrap them or put in a mesh bag and store in a cool place like the fridge. Jim was handling them first and I wanted to touch one so as he was handing it to me I asked if you could feel it move. Well you can guess what happened next, as he handed it to me, he acted like it wiggled in his hand and scared me half to death. I approached them as if they were going to jump out of the sink and bite me...but after a few deep breaths I just put my big girl panties on and dealt with them.

One of the best things about mussels is the price. You can expect to pay around $6 per pound, wow what a super cheap meal. If you are serving mussels as the main course, then plan on one pound per person. If you are serving as an appetizer, then you could half that amount.

They tend to hold grit and dirt in their shells, so you first need to clean them before you cook them. I filled the sink with cold water and then dunked the mesh bags in. One by one Jim and I scrubbed the outside of each mussel, checking for cracked, chipped or open mussels to throw out. If it's open, you can tap it on the counter or thump it and if the mussel is still alive, it will close up. If the mussel remains open, you should toss it.

To give you an idea of how often this occurred, we purchased six pounds (three 2 lb bags) and tossed about 15 mussels.

The other thing you should look for when you are cleaning these little guys, are strings hanging off. They are called "beards" and should be torn off by pulling the strings towards the hinge of the mussel.


A neat trick to help mussels expel the sand and grit is to stir a handful of flour into a bowl of water. As we scrubbed each one and debearded them, we plopped them into this bowl where they sat for 20 minutes. Following their flour bath, they went into another bowl of clean water for one more rinse. Farm raised mussels will have considerably less sand and grit as mussels from the sea. 

This is where the magic happens. This broth is very important because it will cook and steam the mussels and also be poured over the mussels to serve, providing a rich sauce for dipping bread in.

I cooked about three pounds in each pot, so adjust the following measurements to your batch and taste. In a heavy bottomed dutch oven, I added two tablespoons of olive oil and an equal amount of butter. When it has melted over medium heat, I added 1/2 cup of minced shallots and 3 minced garlic cloves. Stir this around until fragrant, about three minutes.

Next, add one cup of chicken stock, a 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes and anywhere from 1/2 cup to one cup of white wine. Remember to cook with good wine you would also drink. Bring this mixture to a boil, and then add 3 pounds of mussels, close the lid tightly and let it boil/steam for five to ten minutes.

After five minutes, stir the mussels around in the sauce, and throw out any that have not opened. Add a splash of cream, 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, the zest of a lemon, the juice of the lemon, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in a wide shallow bowl "family style" so your guests can help themselves and also get to the lovely broth in the bottom.


A must for your Mussels Feast is a lovely white wine and a big loaf of crusty bread.

Have an empty bowl on the table for guests to discard the shells.

Shelley made some really yummy accompaniments to the mussels. Jim flipped over these tasty crostinis with a smear of herbed goat cheese and a shaving of salty prosciutto on top.

Our hostess also made great meatballs served in a flavorful tomato and garlic sauce.

Everyone had a great time, even Shelby Lynn, their sweet chocolate lab who found a place to lay right underneath my chair.

I'm planning on making these again on Friday night and calling it "Mussels and a Movie."

Sore loser.

Just kidding... I think she is laughing at something... we really had a great time this past weekend with these two. I hope you give this recipe a shot, it comes together rather quickly after you have cleaned and prepared the mussels. It's great for a crowd because of the price per pound and it's also an "activity" to eat these family style. What's next? Maybe I tackle frog legs...

Mussels in White Wine Sauce
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup minced shallots
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 pounds mussels
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
14 ounce can diced tomatoes
splash of cream
2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Crusty bread

Prepare the mussels as indicated above.

Preheat a large pot to medium and add the olive oil and butter.  Once the butter has melted, add the minced shallots and saute for 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the wine, chicken stock, tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add the mussels, then cover the pot with a tight fitting lid.  Steam the mussels for about 10 minutes or until all the mussels open, discard any that do not open. Add the cream lemon zest, lemon juice and parsley.  Season to taste and serve with a great white wine and a loaf of crusty bread.


  1. You are really sweet to feature our house with such nice words! We had so much fun too. Long after the trash has been picked up, our garage still smells like an ocean but it is all worth it!


  2. Sorry your garage stunk, hope it doesn't attract wild animals!

  3. I just started eating mussels last year. I felt just like you did..."Awww man, all these years and this is what I've been missing out on?!?!" I love mussels and cook them in a similar sauce. Oh, and your friends house is AMAZING.

    On a side note, I live in Atlanta and I didn't know there was going to be a Blogher conference in May. I'm going to check that out right now!

  4. Noorish, did you get a ticket to BlogHerFood?


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