There was a time when the mere thought of cooking mussels intimidated me. How do you know they are fresh? How do you clean them? How do you know that they are cooked? To play it safe, I figured I’d stick to ordering them in restaurants. If you’ve had the same concerns, let me dispel them. In truth, mussels are really easy to make, inexpensive and great served as a family meal.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind:
- Mussels are alive, just like lobster and crab. So keep this in mind when transporting them. If the store clerk put them on ice and in a plastic bag, DON’T close the bag! You want them to stay alive.
- If you are not using them immediately, remove them from the plastic bag, and put them in a bowl. You can keep them loose or in the mesh bag and store them in the fridge for 1 to 2 days. Use a damp paper towel/cloth to cover them. Drain any access water.
- When you are ready to cook, remove them from the fridge and make sure 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 bowl onto a large colander in the sink.
- Under cold running water, remove any dirt, scrub any debris, and debeard if necessary. And to debeard simply 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, and if they still don't close shut, discard them.
How to cook mussels:
Mussels are very versatile and easy to prep. You simply need a liquid to “steam” them such as wine, stock, water, coconut milk, or beer - the possibilities are endless. And you also need some aromatics like garlic, leeks, fresh herbs, and even bacon (that also serves as a fat infusing more flavor).
The overall process is as follows:
Step 1 - In a hot pan, over medium heat, sauté some bacon until browned. For 2 lbs of mussels, I will typically use half a package of bacon (about 6-8 ounces) and chop it up into 1-inch strips. Once crispy, remove from the pan and put on to a plate.
Step 2 - Discard any excess of bacon fat, leaving just enough to coat the pan. Add sliced leeks and garlic. With a spatula, scrape the bottom of the pan, picking up all the brown bits from the bacon. Cook for about 3 minutes until the leeks are softened.
Step 3 - Splash about ½ a cup of liquid (I typically use whatever good dry white wine I have currently opened in the fridge) into the pan, mixing with a spatula. Cook for about 5 minutes, so the alcohol evaporates and the liquid reduces in size.
Step 4 - Add a tablespoon of dijon mustard and about a ½ a cup of water or stock, and mix well. You want enough liquid for the mussels to “steam” but not be completely submerged. Allow the liquid to come to a slow boil. Meaning the bubbles form on lower heat without the vigor of a full boil that comes with very high heat.
Step 5 - Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the cleaned mussels to the pan, and using a large spoon, mix the mussels and the sauce together. Close the lid and cook for about 7 minutes until the mussels open, which means they are cooked. (Discard any that didn't open- those are dead)
Step 6 - Turn off the heat, add the juice of half a lemon and mix with a spoon. Add back the bacon that was prepared earlier. Feel free to add fresh dill, parsley or cilantro. (For extra flavor, add small chunks of goat cheese for extra flavor.
Serving Tip - And don't forget to serve them with your favorite warm bread. If you are staying away from gluten, try the naturally gluten-free Brazilian cheese balls by BraziBites.
Mussels 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
- Dill, Optional
- 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 (feel free to use an open bottle of whatever you have in the fridge) cook for about 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. Close the lid cook until the mussels open, which means they are cooked. That's typically 5-7 min but can vary based on the size and cookware.
- Turn off the heat, add lemon juice, mix and add bacon that was prepared in step 1. Feel free to add fresh dill, fresh garlic and/or goat cheese.
- Serve and enjoy!