This easy mussels recipe in a white wine sauce with leeks and bacon makes for a quick and delicious restaurant-style meal.
Mussels can seem intimidating to make. I know that firsthand. It wasn't long ago I would only order them at restaurants. I didn't know how to tell if they were fresh or how to select, clean, or even cook mussels. I had questions like: How long to cook mussels? How to make mussels? or How to tell when mussels are ready? But let me tell you, mussels are easy to make. They are also inexpensive and great served as a family meal. I will teach you how to handle, clean, and cook mussels.
Storing and handling tips
- Mussels are alive, just like lobsters and crabs. So keep this in mind when transporting them. If the store clerk puts them on ice and in a plastic bag, DON'T close it! Make sure there is enough air and circulation.
- I recommend making them right away. However, If you are not using them immediately, remove them from the plastic bag, and put them in a bowl. Use a damp paper towel or kitchen towel to cover them. Drain any access water. You can keep them loose or in the mesh bag and store them in the fridge for 1 to 2 days.
- When you are ready to cook, remove the mussels from the fridge and ensure they are still fresh by giving them a smell test. They should smell like the ocean, fresh and salty.
How to clean mussels
- Transfer the mussels from the bag or bowl onto a large colander in the sink.
- Under cold running water, working with one at a time, remove any dirt, scrub any debris, and debeard if necessary. And to debeard means removing the "hairy beard-like part" by pulling it down on the side of the mussel.
- Discard any mussels with cracked shells. If you have any that are open, tap them lightly on the side of a bowl or a hard surface. If the mussel closes shut, it is alive and safe to cook; if it does not close, discard it and don't cook.
How to cook mussels
Mussels are a versatile and simple recipe to prepare. One of the easiest methods to cook mussels is to steam mussels in a liquid: a liquid or a broth such as wine, stock, water, coconut milk, or beer. The options and combinations are endless! Furthermore, adding aromatics like garlic, leeks, fresh herbs, and even bacon will infuse more flavor and enhance the dish's overall taste.
You can start with this easy mussels recipe with white wine, leeks, and bacon. Once you get the hang of the process, I encourage you to try out different aromatics, liquids, and ingredients and create your own delicious base and broth for steamed mussels.
- Mussels: use the freshest you can find
- Bacon: skip the oil here since the rendered bacon fat will add an abundance of flavor. I prefer the thicker cuts of bacon, like the bacon from Niman Ranch. Plus, they have a no added sugar flavor.
- Leeks: delicate and flavorful, add a mild flavor, and pair wonderfully with bacon. You can sub with shallots or onion, but leeks are my first choice.
- Garlic: using fresh garlic and not garlic powder is vital.
- White wine: any dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or Riesling works well. Avoid using anything labeled "cooking wine." If you enjoy drinking it in a glass, then cook with it. I usually use anything left over in the fridge.
- Dijon mustard: mustard adds a nice bite to the sauce. Look for one with basic and clean ingredients like this dijon mustard from Whole Foods. Dijon is mild enough and blends nicely with the wine.
- Broth: chicken or vegetable broth or just water are good options.
- Lemon: use fresh lemons. Lemon juice enhances the flavor and brightens the taste, making it a perfect garnish for a pot of mussels.
- Fresh Herbs: using fresh herbs is key. Dill, parsley, or cilantro are good choices.
Step 1 - Use a pan large enough and deep on the sides to fit 2 lbs of mussels. Over medium heat, get the pan hot, and sauté bacon until browned and crispy. Remove onto a plate for a later step.
Step 2 - Add leeks and garlic. Cook for about 3 minutes until the leeks are softened. Scrape the bottom of the pan, picking up all the brown bits from the bacon, using a spatula.
Step 3 - Splash wine into the pan, mixing with a spatula. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes so the alcohol evaporates, and the liquid reduces in size.
Step 4 - Add dijon mustard and your choice of water or stock, mix well, and allow the liquid to come to a gentle boil. There should be enough liquid for the mussels to steam but not completely submerged.
Step 5 - Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the cleaned mussels to the pan, and mix the mussels with the sauce using a large spoon. Close the lid and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes or until the mussels open. Discard any unopened mussels.
Step 6: Turn off the heat, add the juice of half a lemon, and mix with a spoon. Add back the bacon from step 1. Garnish with fresh dill, parsley, or cilantro. (For extra flavor, add small chunks of goat cheese or Boursin Cheese).
- Enjoy these steamed mussels in white wine sauce as a main dish.
- The white wine broth from the mussels is so delicious it goes well with your favorite bread for dipping!
- For a gluten-free option - try these Brazilian cheese balls; they are naturally gluten-free and are a big hit with the kids.
- Serve this steamed mussels recipe as an appetizer. Pair it with a salad for a complete meal. Try my kale caesar salad with chickpea croutons topped with the juiciest chicken breast for extra protein.
- Ensure the pan you cook mussels is deep and large enough to fit the mussels. A saute pan like this is ideal. A saucier pan is another excellent option.
- When selecting a white wine to cook with, anything you would enjoy drinking goes. So go ahead and use the leftover bottle you have in the fridge. Just don't use anything labeled cooking wine. Overall, any dry, light, and crisp wine varieties, like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, or Reisling, are excellent choices.
- If you want to spice up the recipe, add a flavorful cheese when adding the fresh herbs. Chevre, goat cheese, or Boursin cheese will add a delicious layer of flavor.
Yes, mussels are a category of shellfish called mollusks, in the same family as oysters, clams, scallops, and squid.
You can find mussels at any specialty seafood market or the seafood counter of a supermarket. To ensure you are getting the freshest mussels, look for ones with tightly closed shells, without cracks, and smell fresh like the ocean. When purchasing mussels, remember they are living creatures and still alive. Keep the bag open during transport to allow them to breathe, and do not submerge them in water.
Mussels are best when cooked on the same day of purchase. But if you store them, they can stay fresh for about two days in the fridge.
In the fridge, they should be stored in a bowl covered with a damp towel or damp paper towel. Drain any water that is collected. It is essential to check the mussels before cooking by giving them a smell test and discarding any with cracked shells. If a shell is slightly open, tap against a hard surface like a bowl or counter. If it closes, it is still alive and good to use; if it stays open, discard it.
Discard mussels that are no longer fresh or alive by checking them at two key points: before and after cooking. Before steaming, discard any mussels with cracked shells. If a shell is slightly open, tap on the counter or bowl to see if it closes. If it stays open, the mussel is no longer alive and should be discarded. After cooking, throw out any mussels that have not opened.
More seafood recipes
Lastly, if you try this recipe, I would love to hear about it! Be sure to leave a comment and give this recipe a rating! And if you snapped some photos, tag and share them with me on Instagram.
Easy Mussels Recipe with Leeks and Bacon
- 2 lbs mussels, clean and debeard
- 6-8 oz bacon, about half a package, chopped into small strips
- 2 leeks, trim ends, cut lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- ½ cup water or stock
- ½ lemon, juiced
- fresh dill or parsley or cilantro, chopped, for garnish
- goat cheese, optional
To Prep/Clean the Mussels:
- In a large colander under cold water in the sink, clean the mussels by removing dirt and debris, and debeard if necessary.
- Discard any dead mussels (cracked shells, and those that don’t close after tapping them together lightly)
Cooking the Mussels:
- Heat a large pan, over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add bacon. Using a spatula, mix and break the pieces apart to get a nice sear. Cook for about 3 min until crispy. Remove to a plate. (Save for later - Step 6)
- In the same hot pan (you now have bacon fat as the cooking oil), add leeks and garlic. Mix and scrape the bottom of the pan using a spatula, picking up all the brown bits. Cook for about 2-3 min, until leeks are softened.
- Add wine, cook for about 3 to 5 min, so the liquid reduces and the alcohol evaporates.
- Add a tablespoon of dijon mustard and about a ½ cup of water or stock, mix well.
- Add cleaned mussels to the pan. Using a large spoon, spoon some of the sauce from the bottom over the mussels and combine. Close the lid, and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes or until the mussels open. Discard any that did not open.
- Turn off the heat, add lemon juice, bacon from Step 1 and garnish with fresh herbs like dill or parsley or cilantro. If using goat cheese, crumble pieces over the finished dish. Serve and enjoy!
Serving suggestion: Serve with toasted bread for dipping.