Steamed mussels are an inexpensive 30 minute meal with a European flair. I’ll show you how to cook and serve these gorgeous shellfish.
steamed mussels for dinner!
Steamed mussels are an everyday kind of feast in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, as well as in many other parts of the world. Here in America they’re more of a niche dish which is a shame because mussels are plentiful, healthy, and they can be farmed sustainably, which is a huge deal for seafood. So how about it ~ let’s make mussels together!
Mussels are inexpensive and super easy to prepare, but you need to know some basic facts about these bivalves, here’s the cheat sheet:
- Mussels are sold live and should be prepared and eaten the same day or day after you purchase them.
- You have to keep them very cold at all times.
- Most mussels sold in stores are farm raised, and in this case, farm raised is a good thing. Mussel farms actually help filter our coastal waters and they’re completely sustainable.
- Farm raised mussels are clean! Farm raised mussels are raised on ropes, so they don’t accumulate debris and impurities the way wild mussels can.
- Mussel ‘season’ is from October through March, so they’re one of those rare perks of winter. Mussels can be harvested year round, though, so grab them whenever you see them.
- Don’t submerge mussels in tap water, they need to breath, just like us. That’s why they’re sold in net bags, not plastic. When storing mussels, make sure you don’t cover them with plastic.
- What if a mussel doesn’t open after cooking? Popular wisdom is to discard any mussel that doesn’t open after cooking. “However, according to marine biologist Nick Ruello, this advice may have arisen from an old, poorly researched cookbook’s advice, which has now become an assumed truism for all shellfish. Ruello found 11.5% of all mussels failed to open during cooking, but when forced open, 100% were both adequately cooked and safe to eat.” (source)
- Allow 1/2-1 lb of shell-on mussels per serving, depending on whether they’ll be a starter or a main course.
how to clean and prep fresh mussels for steaming
Mussels are live creatures, so we need to keep this in mind when we prep them for cooking.
- Put the mussels in a colander and give them a thorough rinse with coldest water.
- Working with one at a time, remove the ‘beard’ (or byssal threads) the stringy bit that you’ll find on the hinge side of mussels. This is the part that anchors them to the surface they grow on ~ whether it’s on rocks in the wild, or on a rope in an aqua-farm. Note that often farm raised mussels come already de-bearded, but check anyway.
- If you come across opened mussels, tap them open and closed with your fingers a few times to get them to close. If they don’t close, discard them.
- Discard any mussels with broken shells.
- Put the cleaned mussels into a separate bowl and refrigerate again until the moment you are ready to cook them.
what you’ll need for the broth
In addition to your fresh mussels you’ll need to make a rich flavorful broth to steam them in. Take note that you only need a relatively small amount of broth here because you are steaming the mussels.
- olive oil
- fresh thyme
- add a bunch of thyme sprigs to the broth to infuse its flavor and then remove before serving.
- Dijon mustard
- 2 12-ounce bottles of beer, I prefer a pale ale which has a light flavor.
- a touch of cream adds richness and body to the broth.
- fresh parsley
- add this at the very end for a color and a burst of freshness.
- fresh lemons for serving
why are mussels so cheap?
Mussels are inexpensive because they’re easy to raise ~ they require no feeding! Mussels feed by filtering algae, bacteria, phytoplankton and other small particles right out of the water they live in. It’s an aquaculture dream scenario.
are steamed mussels healthy?
Yes, they’re low calorie sources of protein and an excellent source of vitamin B12, magnesium, and selenium, and a good source of zinc, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. Mussels are a good choice for weight loss diets.
can you reheat leftover mussels?
Yes. Make sure that you have promptly refrigerated your mussels to begin with to avoid food borne illness. You can heat the broth in a pan separately and then add the mussels once the broth is hot. Heat gently, just until the mussels are warmed through, but don’t over-cook. Note: I would only reheat them once, the next day. They won’t be good after that.
how to eat steamed mussels
Steamed mussels, like steamed clams, are a lot of fun to eat. Serve them in shallow bowls in a puddle of their cooking liquid. (You can also serve them family style.) Remove each mussel from its shell and dunk in sauce before popping in your mouth. Some like to do this with their hands, or you can use utensils if you prefer. Always include bread to sop up every last bit of the broth. Provide plenty of napkins and reserve an extra bowl for the shells.
make steamed mussels ahead? No, sorry!
Fresh mussels are not something you’e going to make ahead. You want to eat them fresh out of the steamer pan. But that’s ok, because they only steam for 5-6 minutes! The whole meal comes together in 30 minutes.
what to serve with steamed mussels
Steamed mussels can be a beautiful meal or appetizer. For appetizers I’d just add some crusty bread for sopping up the broth. For dinner, just add in a salad. This isn’t meant to be heavy duty ~ we’re dining European style 🙂
more shellfish, please!
- Mini Crab Cakes with Ginger and Scallions
- Bloody Mary Shrimp Cocktail
- 6 Minute Instant Pot Lobster Risotto
- Crispy Crab Balls
- Mediterranean Orzo Salad with Shrimp
- Hot Crab Dip
- Creamy Shrimp Bisque
- Lobster Pasta Salad
- large Dutch oven or equivilent pot (this needs to be big enough to hold all your steamed mussels.)
- 4 lbs live farm raised mussels
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
- 24 ounces pale ale (or your favorite beer)
- 1-2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 bunch thyme sprigs. You can tie them with a string, or not. You will fish out the stems later.
- 1/2 cup cream
- 2 Tbsp butter
clean and prep the mussels
- Put the mussels in a colander and give them a thorough rinse with coldest water. Working with one at a time, remove the ‘beard’ or stringy bit that you’ll find on some, but not all, mussels. Just give it a good tug to remove, or use a small paring knife to cut it off if necessary. If you come across opened mussels, tap them open and closed with your fingers a few times to get them to close. If they don’t close, discard them. Discard any mussels with broken shells. Put the cleaned mussels into a separate bowl and refrigerate again until the moment you are ready to cook them.
make the broth
- Heat the butter and oil in a very large Dutch oven or pot big enough to hold all your mussels. Keep in mind that the mussels will expand in volume as they cook and open up. Saute the shallots and garlic over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring almost constantly.
- Add the beer, mustard, and the thyme to the pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for about 3-5 minutes.
- Raise the heat so the sauce is boiling, then add all the mussels to the pot and cover. Set a timer and steam for 6 minutes. Stir the mussels gently a couple of times during cooking to redistribute. They are done when they are opened. You don't want to over-cook mussels because they can become tough.
- Remove the mussels to your (large!) serving bowl or platter and cover to keep warm.
- Remove the thyme stems and continue to boil the broth for another 5 minutes to reduce it a bit more. Add the cream and butter halfway through that time.
- There are 2 ways to serve: either pour all the sauce over the mussels in their serving bowl, or portion mussels into individual bowls and top with sauce.
- Garnish with fresh parsley and lemon wedges, and enjoy right away.