Mussel your way in

What can you say about a mollusk with a shell the color of a ripe bruise and a body that, on a good day, looks like a small pink tongue?  I mean, who in their right mind would choose to eat that?  It just looks like it would be icky.  I just know you hear your mother chiding: “don’t judge a book by it’s cover!”  The mussel is much maligned! 

To be fair, it took me until I was twenty to muster the courage to try my first mussel.  That first bite was at a Japanese restaurant in Boston and I am quite sure that there was probably a great deal of sake involved to get me over the visuals.  But, it was love at first bite and I have never looked back.  In fact, if mussels are on the menu, the odds are great that I will order them.

The real truth about mussels is that they are a vehicle for whatever sauce you cook them in.  Not to mention that they are quick, very easy to make and incredibly inexpensive (about $2 a lbs).  So, work with me here.  Give the ugly duckling a chance.  I think that you will see that it becomes a swan pretty quickly!  It certainly did for me.

Spicy Mussels in White Wine

Serves 4

1/3 c. olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

6 large garlic cloves, diced

3 t. fennel seeds

1 t- 2t dried crushed red pepper-depending on how spicy you like it

1 t. salt

1 1/2 c. white wine

1 lemon, thinly sliced

1 c. chopped, fresh parsley

4 lbs fresh mussels, rinsed

1 c. chopped grape tomatoes

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add onion, garlic, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper and salt; sauté until onion is light brown, about 4 minutes. 
  2. Add wine, lemon slices and 1/2 c. parsley; bring to a boil. 
  3. Add mussels.  Cover pot and cook until mussel shells open, stirring once or twice to rearrange mussels, about 7 minutes.  Discard any mussels that do not open. 
  4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to the bowls you will serve them in. 
  5. Boil broth on pot until it reduces by half-about 3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 
  6. Divide broth over mussels.  Sprinkle each bowl with remaining parsley and tomatoes.

 Serve with lots of crusty bread and enjoy.



  1. Betsy L
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Yum – I agree – I generally order mussels when I see them on a menu. However, the only mussels I have ever cooked have come from the channel buoys outside Cohasset harbor or from rocks just off the beach. Do you buy them from your fish market? I love them and would love to cook them more often.

    I am lovin’ the blog and will pass the link onto friends!

  2. Posted January 31, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Yes! By all means, buy them your fish market! One of the traditionally tough parts about making mussels was that you had to scrub them first. No more-unless you are harvesting them yourself from the sea. Most mussels are now farm raised which significabtly cuts down on the prep. They could not be easier!

  3. Lili
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink | Reply


    Your description of mussels made me laugh out loud! Like Betsy, I love them, but I have steered away from them, thinking they were more work than I wanted. Thanks for setting me straight . My husband adores them, so I’ll try your recipe.

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