The first time I had mussels was at a little French restaurant in Bethesda, MD. The salty and meaty taste of the mussels themselves, along with sopping up an entire loaf of French bread in the broth almost made my appetite for the main course go away (almost). Per usual, I decided I could make these at home for a lot less money, and just as tasty! You can serve these as an appetizer, or main course, setting the big pot you cooked them in at the center of the table and fighting over space to sop your bread in.
The most challenging part of cooking mussels is, well, buying them. This is one item that I will go the extra mile to find as fresh as possible. You may see them in plastic net bags at your regular grocery store, which I usually find many of them broken or dead. If you have a seafood counter with a guy nice enough to pick them out by hand, that is your best bet. Always cook them the same day you buy them and if you aren’t cooking them right away, put them in a bowl with a damp towel over them in the fridge. Regardless, DO NOT leave them in a plastic bag or you will kill ‘em all (that is only good if you’re listening to Metallica). You can usually pick out the dead ones by their hollow sound when you tap them on the counter. Also, if they are slightly open, they should clam up when you tap on them. Before cooking, scrub them under running water and pull the little “beards” off. If any don’t open while cooking, discard those too. The good news is that these little buggers are only about 4 bucks a pound! I usually cook around 2 lbs for an entrée for two, or appetizer for four people. The most expensive part of this will be the wine you cook them in (if you buy “cooking wine” I will haunt you every time you do it). Just get wine that is good to drink too, please!
2 lbs mussels, debearded and scrubbed clean 2 Tbs unsalted REAL butter 1/2 Cup minced shallots 2 Tbs minced garlic 1 Cup dry white wine (whatever you're drinkin') 1 Cup Italian parsley chopped, plus extra for garnish 1 Cup cream Sea salt and pepper to taste
In a large dutch oven, melt butter and saute shallots until soft over medium heat, add garlic and cook 1 more minute. Throw in the mussels, wine, cream and parsley and once it starts to steam up, put a lid on it (a clear lid is great to see as they open up). Check them after about four minutes and take the mussels out as they open and place in a bowl. If after 9 minutes any are still closed, throw them away. Maintain heat for a high simmer until your sauce reduces a little bit (about 5 minutes). Taste it as you go and don’t add salt until the very end (the mussels are salty and reducing the liquid will also make it saltier).
Take your cooked mussels and any juice they let go along with the broth and pour it all into a serving bowl (or the pot you cooked in). Garnish with more parsley and fresh pepper.