Don’t run away! Mussels truly are delicious, affordable, and easy to make.
Over the years I developed a love hate relationship with these shiny little mollusks. Love at first, then hate after a bad experience at a restaurant, and now, back to love. The mussel hiatus was officially lifted this October while visiting friends in Seattle. They whipped up a simple batch of mussels served with crusty bread that were so fresh and delicious it completely changed my tune. I learned then what I didn’t know during the hate phase: mussels are ridiculously easy to make at home and they are cheap! Add some beer and you have, perhaps, the perfect meal.
Even in Cincinnati, fresh live mussels are easy to find and only cost around $3.99 a pound. In the North East I found them as cheap as $2.50 a pound! Two pounds of mussels easily feeds two people as a full meal. Or as an appetizer, one pound is plenty for two people.
Before moving to Cincinnati I lived on the same block as the Publick House, an amazing Belgian influenced craft beer bar and restaurant in Brookline, just outside of Boston. Publick House routinely makes “best beer bar” lists (like this one) because of their amazing selection of Belgian beers. While I lived nearby I took full advantage of the proximity and learned a thing or two about Belgian beer and food.
One of the things I discovered there was moules-frite, or mussels and french fries. Moules-frite is a truly classic Belgian (and also French) dish. One of the various preparations of moules-frite is moules à la bière aka mussels cooked in a beer broth. Publick House served up giant bowls of moules in the broth of your choosing, from classic garlic and herbs with Belgian witbier to thai curry with pilsner, coconut milk and lime alongside big cones of crispy fries. This was the inspiration for the mussels I’m about to share with you. I couldn’t pick just one variation, so consider this a two-for-one kind of post.
But first, a couple notes on finding and preparing your “moules.” I’ve had success getting live mussels at various places around Cincinnati, including: Fresh Market, Whole Foods, and one of my most recently discovered and favorite new seafood spots, Lobsta Bakes of Maine in Newtown, Ohio.
Mussels should be alive when you cook them, so wherever you get them, make sure it is a reputable source. Best to buy them the same day you plan on cooking them, store them in the fridge until you’re ready in an area where they can breathe (resist the urge to wrap them tightly in plastic bags or other airtight containers or you’ll suffocate them). Plan for about twenty minutes of prep to clean them up. This is the hardest part of the whole thing, the cooking part is cake. If you see any “beards” on the mussels as above, pull gently with a firm grasp and tear them off in the direction towards the hinge end of the mussel. As you sort through the mussels, discard any with broken shells, or that don’t close when handled. Give them a quick scrub and a rinse and you’re ready.
Mussels in a sausage, garlic, and thyme beer broth
- 1 or 2 tbsp butter
- salt to taste (could omit if your sausage is very salty)
- 1/3 cup of your favorite sausage, removed from casing or if using dry/smoked sausage chopped into small pieces (we used the latter)
- 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
- 6-8 thyme sprigs, leaves removed
- 1 shallot, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 8 oz beer, such as Belgian witbier – really anything that isn’t too roasty like a porter/stout or hoppy like an IPA. Milder, unspiced beers will work great.
- 1 pound of cleaned mussels
You’ll need a large lidded pan, like a Dutch oven. Place on medium heat on your stove top. Add butter, sausage, red chili flakes, thyme, and shallot. If starting with raw sausage, make sure to cook thoroughly. We used summer sausage so we just let it crisp up a bit.
Once the sausage is browned, add your garlic and saute for one minute, then add the beer. Turn the heat to medium/high and let the broth come up to a boil, then add a pound of mussels. Give a quick stir, then cover. Check and give another stir after two or three minutes. The mussels are done when they are open, which should take no more than five minutes. Do not eat any mussels that do not open.
Mussels in a coconut curry beer broth
- 1 or 2 tbsp vegetable oil, or coconut oil if you have it
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, whole or lightly crushed
- salt to taste
- 1 heaping tbsp green curry paste
- zest of half a lime
- 8 oz beer (or a little less), anything like a pilsner, blonde, or pale ale would work great here.
- 6 oz coconut milk (full fat or reduced)
- 1 pound of cleaned mussels
- juice of one lime (or two if your lime isn’t very juicy)
- 3-4 tbsp fresh chopped cilantro
The only difference in this variation is you start with the oil, add the shallot, garlic, salt, green curry paste, and lime zest, and stir for a couple minutes until very fragrant. Then add the beer, and coconut milk and stir until well combined. A whisk will help with this. Bring up to a boil and add your mussels as before. This time, once the mussels are done, turn the heat off and add the lime juice and chopped cilantro into the broth, giving a stir to equally distribute.
Make sure to provide a discard bowl for shells and if you have them appetizer forks to pry out the mussels. Give them a dip in the broth and enjoy!
We ate our mussels with a few hunks of crusty bread to sop up that delicious broth and sweet potato oven fries. I’ve found that this technique for the sweet potatoes makes them the most crunchy, which is key for me. We served a garlic aioli alongside the fries for dipping too which is traditional. For beer alongside the mussels we enjoyed a Cambridge Brewing Company Sgt. Pepper, a beautiful, peppery, fruity and effervescent farmhouse ale that played nicely with both mussel preparations. They actually add four different kinds of peppercorns to the boil when crafting this brew, it is so yummy!
So there you have it, delicious beer broth mussels, for under ten dollars, prepared by you! If you enjoy seafood, you absolutely have to give this a try soon.