By Darcy Lenz
July 25, 2016

If you've ever met me, you probably know my favorite meal is steamed mussels. Actually, I should probably say, petite steamed bivalves. Because I can definitely get down with some steamed clams too.


Steamed Clams with Chorizo and Padron Peppers


It's important to note that by favorite, I mean this is the dish I crave most often and could happily eat at absolutely anytime. I would say, on average, I tell someone at least once to twice a week that I need mussels. Most people I encounter on a regular basis have come to expect it and have stopped asking me if I'm pregnant or something.


There's something about having that massive pile of tender, succulent little bites tucked in their shells rising from a lake of supple, savory broth just begging for crusty bread to dive on in that really does it for me. My preferred steaming liquid is always going to be a simple white wine-based broth with plenty of aromatics (garlic, shallots, herbs), a bit of lemon, and a touch of heat. But coconut milk, tomato, and beer are all admirable broth base options--just depends on what you're in the mood for. Steamed mussels are my go-to order at restaurants, they're my favorite "special" dinner to make for just me on a Sunday, but they're also one of the absolute best dishes for sharing with company. And here's why:


Coconut and Basil Steamed Mussels


1. Steamed mussels are ridiculously quick and easy to make.

Whatever flavor profile you opt for, you can prep your steaming liquid ingredients ahead of time, and throw together a side salad or a crudité platter before your people come over.  Then, the actual cook time on your mussels is next to nothing. As in, once you have them in the pot, you're about 4 minutes from chow time. I usually like to take a little longer (than is necessary) concentrating flavor in the broth before the shellfish ever enter the picture--because let's be real, the broth is the best part. But even still, all you're doing there is a little bit of chopping and getting things going in the pot. It couldn't be easier.


A simple veggie side is great to serve with a big vat of mussels, but beyond that, all you need is plenty of sliced up crusty baguette. Note: It's very important that you do not skimp on the bread.  Occasionally, I do like to bake off a bag of frozen French Fries for the table… you know, for a kinda janky moules frites experience. But mostly--bread is all you need. It’s a low-effort, light and lovely summer meal that doesn’t require heating up your home.



2.Steamed mussels are impressive.

People associate steamed mussels with all the fancy European feels… because restaurants completely overcharge you for them. But that’s OK, because then you look real cool and sophisticated when you serve a grand display of them at home for your friends. Like a boss.

P.S. What's not impressive is getting a bad mussel in your mouth. Be sure to toss out any mussels that have opened before the steam and any mussels that don’t open during the steam. Those guys are dead and you don't wanna eat 'em.


Thai-Style Mussels with Herbs


3. Steamed mussels are cheap.

Mussels from your local fish market or the seafood counter at a grocery store like Whole Foods will run you about 3 to 4 bucks per pound. Assume you'll need about 11/2 pounds of mussels per person.


Mussels in Smoky Poblano-Cilantro Broth


4. Steamed mussels are fun to enjoy with a small group.

This is an incredibly communal dish that allows (more like requires) you to eat with your hands. Like I said, I very much enjoy a pot of steamed mussels by my lonesome every now and again, but a mussel meal is an especially fun, interactive eating experience when shared with people you dig all digging into the same giant bowl.


Beer-Steamed Clams and Mussels