How to Make the Best Steamed Mussels

Steamed mussels are a great choice for an easy dinner party–if you buy them fresh at the market you can simply open a bottle of white wine, pour yourself a glass, and use the rest of it to add to a delicious pan sauce that begs for a crusty baguette to sop up the juices. This dish is impressive and not one you’d have every day, even though fundamentally this recipe is so straightforward that you could easily have dinner for two on the table in a half hour on a weeknight. (You don’t even have to measure!) Once you’ve mastered this technique you can steam mussels effortlessly and feel free to buy a pound or two whenever they look particularly tempting at the fish market.

1. Pick Your Mussels

First, make sure you buy the freshest mussels available. Look for mussels that smell briny and like the ocean and throw out any with broken shells or that are unusually light or heavy. If a mussel is slightly open, tap it against the counter and it will trigger a reflex for the shell to close. If it doesn’t close, discard it.

2. Keep Them Fresh

Remember: mussels are alive and you want to keep them as cold as possible in the refrigerator until you cook them. Spread them in a single layer and cover with a damp paper towel or in a colander on top of ice to help keep them as fresh as possible.

3. Prep the Mussels

Now it’s time to debeard your mussels! Scrub each mussel individually and you’ll see a tiny brown string (the beard) hanging from each one. Tug firmly with your fingers and pull this off of the mussel–some mussels are already missing the beard so don’t worry if you don’t see it. The beard isn’t harmful but it doesn’t taste good; do the best you can to remove the beards from every mussel but no need to drive yourself crazy.

4. Build Your Base

Finely chop four cloves of garlic and one onion.

Heat a pat of butter in a large frying pan over medium heat and when frothy add in the chopped garlic and onion. Add salt and pepper and cook until lightly softened, but not browned.

5. Steam

Add the mussels in one layer, and pour in enough white wine to fully coat the pan in about ¼ inch of the wine, butter, garlic, and onion mixture. Cover with a lid (or a baking pan if you don’t have a lid large enough) to steam the mussels and cook on medium-high heat for a few minutes.

Check on the mussels after about five minutes to see if they’ve opened up, which indicates that they’re done. Shake the pan to distribute the sauce evenly. If the majority of mussels have opened, take the pan off the heat. But don’t hesitate to keep on the heat for a few minutes until most of the mussels have opened–throw out any outstanding mussels that haven’t opened to be on the safe side.

6. Plate, Booze, Enjoy

You can serve your delicious steamed mussels directly from the pan, or pour the broth into a shallow bowl and serve with a baguette. Sprinkle a dash of Pernod (an anise spirit) on the cooked mussels if you’re so inclined. A squeeze of lemon is also a welcome addition.

Then sit back and enjoy the one-pan masterpiece you’ve made in under thirty minutes.

Original story by the CHOW Food Team, updated by Caitlin M. O'Shaughnessy. All photos by Chris Rochelle/CHOW.