Here in America, mussels are kind of the black sheep of the mollusk family. For whatever reason, folks here on this side of the pond seem to prefer their oysters and clams unlike the Europeans who absolutely adore mussels. If you DO like mussels, there are dozens of species, but two in particular, the Blue (or common mussel) and the Green Lipped, are the most common in U.S. markets and on our local menus.
Mussels can be prepared in a number of ways, including steaming (in the shell); frying or baking (out of the shell); or as an ingredient in dishes like paella, bouillabaisse or stuffing. For my money, nothing beats Mussels Marinara.
Mussels Marinara is somewhat a peasant dish, and in some ways, it’s a relative to the more famous bouillabaisse, BUT if you love the sweet taste of mussels, there’s NO other recipe that showcases what mussels are really all about. Now, over the years, I’ve enjoyed many different mussel dishes. During that time, like most chefs, I’ve also prepared countless orders of Mussels Marinara. I’ve also worked alongside chefs who’ve added their own twists on this classic.
All told, I must admit, I’ve tweaked my own recipe, as time has gone by, to include a few of these ideas, and I think you’ll agree that the collective wisdom of all the contributors resulted in a dish truly worth your appetite. Before I give you the recipe, let me say that beyond the ingredients, there are a few other things that really matter if you want the BEST results.
And they are:
1. Be ABSOLUTELY sure you use fresh mussels in your recipe. Keep them on ice, or minimally, in your fridge covered with a clean, damp towel.
2. Before you begin the recipe, sort through your mussels and discard any that cracked or that aren’t tightly closed when tapped. Also, if a mussel shell is feather light, it’s likely the mussel inside is dead. Throw those out too. The flavor of dead mussels in a dish isn’t a good thing.
3. Mussels quite often have a tough, fibrous beard that is attached to the base. You’ll want to pull that off. First, it’s not going to add any flavor, and second, it’s not something you want to eat accidently.
4. Regarding the wine, a Chardonnay is my usual recommendation, but don’t bother opening up a bottle of Chardonnay if you already have some Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc on hand. They’ll all work well.
5. The tomatoes? Make sure they’re ripe and sweet. Speaking of sweet, I’d rather have you use sweet onions than Spanish. And be sure you use only fresh garlic!
6. Lastly, although any marinara will make this recipe work, I truly prefer our Salvaggio’s Old World Marinara because it has a less-cooked, less-sweet and FULL tomato flavor without being overly spiced.