Steamed mussels have a mild, sweet flavor that can win over even the fish-ambivalent. Seriously, if you’re kind of on the fence about seafood, or are intimidated about cooking it, mussels are your friend. I mean, not your literal friend, that would be weird. And sad because you’re going to steam them in a delicious buttery broth which would be awkward if you’ve named them. (Sorry, Algernon.)
Mussels Meunière (mussels steamed with garlic and white wine) is the classic but I was leafing through an old copy of Saveur while I was at the dentist the other day and I saw a recipe for mussels cooked in beer. So, thank you dentist’s office, for having a great magazine selection and inspiring this dish.
The original recipe called for a pale ale but I wanted to try a lemony Belgian-style wheat beer. Either would work though, so use your favorite. I changed the recipe quite a bit, adding a heap of fresh basil along with the parsley and finishing the sauce with just a little butter.
Holy Moses, the sauce is good. It’s bright and lemony, herby and just a bit rich. We drank it like soup once the mussels were finished.
As if that wasn’t enough yumminess, we paired it with good toasted bread that we slathered with a homemade Lemon-Garlic Aïoli. I’m telling you, this combination is psychotically good. Homemade aïoli is beyond delicious but if you want dinner on the table in 10 minutes, you can whisk grated garlic and lemon juice into some good store-bought mayonnaise and it would be really good.
Tips for buying and cooking mussels
- Most mussels sold these days are farm-raised. This is good because they are much easier to clean and less likely to be sandy. The flavor is the same.
- Plan on 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of mussels per person for a main-course serving.
- The most common type sold in the U.S. is the black-colored “blue mussel,” but you can sometimes find green-shelled New Zealand mussels as well.
- Mussels are sold live and their shells should be tightly closed. Some may “gape” open slightly but if you tap it, it should close after a moment or two. That means the mussel is still alive and safe to eat. If it stays open or is cracked, throw the mussel away.
- Wait to clean mussels until you are about ready to eat them. Store them in an open container in the refrigerator and keep them damp either with wet paper towels or a damp cloth. Storing them in a sealed plastic container or plastic bag will suffocate them.
- To clean, rinse the mussels several times with a steady flow of fresh water. If they’re sandy, scrub with a stiff brush. Don’t soak them as this can kill them. Remove the beard by pinching the brown, stringy tuft coming out from between the two shells, and give it a firm pull.
Steamed Mussels With Wheat Beer and Basil (and Garlicky Aïoli Toasts)
For the Mussels
- 2 lb. mussels cleaned and debearded
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 shallots thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1 cup Belgian-style wheat beer or pale ale
- 1 1 ⁄2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cold
- 1 jalapeño red or green, halved, seeded and thinly sliced (optional)
- 1 ⁄2 cup flat leaf parsley roughly chopped
- 1 ⁄2 cup fresh basil leaves roughly chopped
- Toasted bread for serving
For the Garlicky-Lemony Aïoli: (either use our recipe for homemade or use store-bought mayonnaise)
- 1/2 cup homemade aïoli
(If using store-bought, add ingredients below to 1/2 cup mayonnaise)
- 1 small garlic clove finely grated
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt plus more, to taste
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Freshly ground black pepper
- If using store-bought mayonnaise, stir the mayo, garlic, salt, lemon and pepper together in a small bowl. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the beer and bring to a boil. Stir in the lemon juice and mustard until smooth. Add the mussels, cover the pot and cook, undisturbed, until the mussels open, about 5 minutes.
- Uncover and using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a serving bowl. Discard any that won’t open. Add the butter and chili and stir until broth is melted and emulsified. Taste the broth and season with salt and pepper, as desired. Pour the broth over top of mussels. Sprinkle with the parsley and basil, and serve hot with the aïoli and toasted bread on the side.