broiled mussels

Welcome to the single time each calendar year I cook something that began its life in the ocean. I suspect right now that you’re in one of a few camps. You’re either thinking “You know, I never noticed it before but Deb, you really don’t have any fish recipes on the site!” Or you’re thinking, “What kind of person doesn’t eat fish?” or you’re thinking, “Lady, I just arrived here yesterday because I heard there were some cookies around and I couldn’t care less about your food hangups.” Welcome, all of you.

wine-steamed mussels

Yeah, so I have some fish hangups. But I love mussels. It’s probably because they’re usually steamed open in wine or beer, shallots or garlic, butter or, well, even more butter. It doesn’t hurt that they’re usually served with fries, and the juices sopped up with chunks of crusty baguette. Can you imagine a more glorious way to go out? They’re sweet and bite-sized and the shells make the most magnificent low clinking sounds against each other in a bowl, like very full wine glasses. The presence of those is encouraged, too.

ready to be butter-slathered

ready to broil

I mentioned a few weeks ago my household’s adoration of the Canal House cookbooks (there are three a year, and a year’s worth was an awesome present last year). I don’t mean this to undermine the cooking, because that in and of itself is wonderful, but it’s true lifestyle porn: I don’t just want the cooking, I want it all, the aged-just-so dishes, the mismatched flatware, the abandoned barn tables with a little cascade of afternoon light flitting across and the afternoon cocktail that’s all part of day’s work. The recipes — crafted in the Lambertville, NJ kitchen of Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, one a former founding editor and the other a former test kitchen director at Saveur — are seasonal and pared down yet elegant, things you immediately fantasize about serving at dinner parties you suddenly, urgently need to have.


And so when they suggested that I steam mussels open in wine, slather them with butter compounded with parsley, garlic, smoked paprika and salt and broil them until the butter is bubbly and serve at a party, I immediately wanted to do just that. Of course, it was actually a party of two last Friday night because we spend a lot more time these days chasing a tiny staggering drunk around than entertaining, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be fancy, right?

baked pommes frites
moules frites-ish

One year ago: Build Your Own Smitten Kitchen or the closest I’ve ever come to a gift guide. Nothing but practical, reasonably priced stuff, promise! Also, Creamed Mushrooms on Butter Chive Toast, Ridiculously Easy Butterscotch Sauce and Mushroom Marsala Pasta with Artichokes
Two years ago: Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties, Spelt Everything Crackers, Feta Salsa and Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Three years ago: Espresso Chocolate Shortbread Cookies, Peanut Butter Cookies and Austrian Raspberry Shortbread
Four years ago: Fettucine with Porcini, Potato Salad with Sherry Mustard Vinaigrette, Salted Chocolate Caramels and Zucchini, Ham and Ricotta Fritters

Broiled Mussels
Adapted from Canal House, Vol. 5

I added a lot of directions here, such as how to clean mussels and a good place to pause if you’d like to make these a few hours before you will be entertaining. The only thing I would do differently next time is to chop my parsley more finely so that it would distribute evenly. Whether you swap beer for wine or regular butter for brown butter, I don’t think there’s a bad way to make these.

Serves 6 as appetizers

2 pounds mussels
1 cup white wine (they suggest 1/2 cup but I need more to steam that volume)
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
4 pinches smoked paprika (pimenton)

Clean your mussels. There are a zillion ways to do this, this is mine: I put them in a big bowl of very cold water for about 10 minutes. This encourages them to expel their sand. Scoop them out (not dump, if you dump the sandy water over them, it defeats the purpose) one by one and scrub them under running water. Most cultivated mussels have the bissus (beard) removed but if one lingers, yank it toward the hinge (if you do it away from the hinge, it can kill the mussel prematurely) or cut it with a knife. Discard any mussels with chipped shells or that are not completely shut; they are more than likely dead and it’s not worth finding out if it may or may not make you sick, right?

Boil your wine in a medium pot. Add the mussels, cover and steam them open over high heat until they open. You can start checking at 3 minutes, but it can take up to 6. I like to use the lid and potholders and shake them around a little from time to time, to make sure they’re getting equal access to the wine and heat.

Once open, let the mussels cool. Twist off and discard one of the shells from each mussels (discard any that didn’t open), making sure that the remaining shell contains the mussel. Reserve the mussel broth for another use. Mash butter, parsley, garlic, pimenton and salt to taste in a small bowl and slather each mussel with the compound butter. Arrange them in a broiler-safe tray and chill them in the fridge until the butter is hard. [This is a great do-ahead interval, if you’d like to prepare these for when you entertain.]

Preheat the broiler (or your oven to 500, if you don’t have a broiler). Broil the mussels until the butter is bubbling hot, about 2 minutes (or up to 4 in an oven). Serve immediately, with crusty bread or my favorite, baked pommes frites.

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117 comments on broiled mussels

  1. Katie D.

    Hey Deb! First post!
    I was just wondering if extra-virgin olive oil or margarine would be an okay subsitute for the butter as my sister loves mussels but is allergic to it.
    Thank you!

  2. Huh…I hadn’t ever noticed the lack of fish! I love it, but actually have more of a hang-up with mussels. Texture thing I guess, but these look and sound better than my experiences. That Jacob vid is precious! *fist shake at flickr*

  3. Joy

    Love Canal House. Got to try a bite or two from their fabulous minds at the New Amsterdam Market a few weeks back. So delicious, and funny, I hadn’t noticed there weren’t ‘so many’ ‘sea animal’ recipes… maybe because everything else you post is so excellent and amazing, I hadn’t missed it at all.
    Thanks for being such an inspiration.

  4. We have a favorite restaurant that we go to and have fries and mussels. When we are done with mussels and have no bread left for sopping, we drink the broth. It is so good. I don’t think there is too much butter in it though. I would love to make them at home or something just as delicious. This recipe looks like it might do!

  5. Adine

    It actually sounds like you’re describing Lambertville itself – “seasonal and pared down yet elegant”! LIving there, it’s no wonder they create such wonderful recpipes. I love mussels! Can’t wait to try these…

    1. deb

      Adine — I have a cold (oh, and someone was practicing his “walking” in his crib at 3:45 this morning) so my head is extra foggy; do they have a restaurant or something there? I should know this. My mother swears she’s been there.

  6. Paula

    Okay, I may be from the Ocean State but I have never wondered about your lack of fish recipes! I’m in the camp that’s looking for the cookies, where are they!!?? lol

  7. I have had a love / hate relationship with mussels. The love is for the taste of the sea they seem to radiate and the hate is for the number of times I have had to struggle through the sickness they give me. I keep going back for more though, my husband gave up after a particularly bad experience that we both shared, but I soldiered on again at the next opportunity! I once remember enjoying some Thai influenced mussels so much, I actually picked up the bowl and began drinking the turmeric coloured coconut juice that the mussels had cooked in! I suspect that several alcoholic beverages had been consumed. When I look at the photographs you have posted I have conflicting emotions. I very much would like to try them but cannot help but hear the small nagging voice telling me they don’t agree with me. I imagine I will try again, however, and your recipe for broiling them afterwards is certainly helping to make sure they are very much cooked.

  8. This looks gorgeous, totally classic!

    I don’t want to make anyones food fears worse but I feel compelled to share a story about the best/worst mussels I’ve ever had. They were plucked straight off the beach and cooked in butter very simply in a battered open fronted hostel kitchen/shack. So far, so good right? Except we got greedy when we were picking and took the largest mussels we could find – I swear some were so large that I could see a face on them. Offputting, to say the least…but the rest were delicious!

  9. robin

    The mussels look amazing, blah blah blah–that video!! Oh, how I love those early walking days! Look out, world!

    But seriously, the mussels do look amazing. ;)

  10. Always a pleasure Deb! Loved the “staggering drunk link”! Your writing is just as much as a pleasure as your incredible images and recipes. I’ve been a fan of Canal House recipes for sometime now, you do them a great service by featuring them here on your blog. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

  11. I’ve never tried cooking mussels in beer…I’ll give that a go. They are also tasty with a sprinkling of fresh tarragon. We can’t grow tarragon so easily here in Central Texas but Mexican Mint Marigold is a good substitute and really adds a nice punch of flavor.

  12. dave

    Every Saturday at the farmer’s market I pass the guy with the mussels and oysters and clams, and I say to my self, “self, today we should buy some mussels”, but I never do. Armed with this recipe, next time I WILL buy some. Thanks!

  13. Lovely mussels! Mussels are a big favorite of mine too, but you printed a common mistake that has largely been disproved: no need to discard mussels that didn’t open after cooking! Certainly throw out any that were open/refuse to close when you gently squeeze them before cooking, but you can actually eat the ones that didn’t open as long as you have a good tool for prying them apart!

  14. so funny that you don’t like seafood, but you like mussels, they have such a distinct texture. Mmmmmm, so good though and this looks divine. Your little Jacob is adorable.

  15. linda

    although i do not care for mussels & was ready to exit this post, i realized that i wanted to see jacob (& wow…those socks are walkin’)…& was glad to discover canal house.

  16. Kailee

    I’ve been reading your lovely blog for years, so I know you’re not a seafood fan. And even though I am, the things you do with vegetables and baked goods make me never even give it a thought when I’m perusing your archives.

    In fact, just made a half batch of your roasted mushrooms for an early Christmas dinner for just my husband and me since we’re traveling over the holiday. I made all his favorites, lamb chops, mashed potatoes, crème brulée. But, amid all his spoils, the thing he wished there was more of? The mushrooms! And so did I!

  17. AMR

    I love mussels too…I just can’t inspect them too closely when I’m eating them.
    And low lighting is a must. :)
    This way of putting it all together looks/reads delicious.
    Thank you and happy holidays, A

  18. Kristen E

    I’m so glad you posted this! My husband and I both love mussels, but it’s hard to find new/interesting recipes for them. This will be a fun one to try! Thanks!

  19. I love that you don’t love fish, and that you do love mussels. Me too. I will occasionally eat a dozen oysters, or a plate of perfectly cooked scallops, but THAT’S IT.

  20. Erika

    If anyone is in the Philadelphia neighborhood, you have to check out the mussels at Monk. It’s a Belgian-themed bistro/pub that specializes in Trappist beers–but also has 3 (count them 3!) different cooking styles for their moules frites. To die for! Thanks for the tips for doing them at home–much cheaper than the train to Philly…

  21. Lilly

    Mussels!!!!! I just had them for the first time the other week – my paper’s staff goes out every once and a while to this fabulous local place to get drunk in exchange for giving them ad space, and they (at Brussels) make amazing mussels!! I got tricked into the first one and now I can’t stop – good to have a recipe to get me through withdrawl during the week. Thanks again for a great recipe Deb!

    ps.. zomg Jacob is just too cute in that video. I want one now. Boyfriend wants to wait until we are done grad school, but… Grad school vs curly-haired kids? My brain and my ovaries want very different things. -.-;

  22. Smoked paprika is a real secret ingredient. I use it instead of weird “liquid smoke.” We also have some black cardamom in the cupboard I only figured out how to use recently (in chutneys/chilis/beans for smokiness). I keep meaning to buy some fancy smoked salt.

    As for seafood, I cannot get enough. I’ve tested this on annual trips to Maine. My husband and I had this moment of eye contact over a picnic table of lobster carnage—we knew we were disgusting, greedy animals but we weren’t sorry. I dream of making a feast of seven fishes but I am usually away for Christmas.

  23. I am so excited to make these. My best friend’s favorite food is mussels, but she never gets to eat them unless I make them. I knew I loved broiled mussels (well the kind from Japanese Restaurants) but these sound awesome too.

  24. these look amazing! i love mussels and funnily enough mussels rattling together are one of my favorite sounds (either that or the sound of walking on pebbles). Weird to have a favorite sound, but it’s just soothing for some reason. Also, i looove mussels and seafood in general so it gets me pretty happy knowing deliciousness is soon to come – and these look like pure deliciousness!

  25. One of these days, go hang out in Spain or Japan. As a food lover, it would be impossible for your fish hangup not to be cured after such a visit. The concept of “fish” we have in this country has NOTHING to do with how other cultures around the world define it.

  26. Great idea, I really wonder why I haven’t been broiling mussels like snails ever before. Definitely will make these over the holidays. Thanks so much for posting!

  27. PennyJG

    Sorry to rain on the parade, but mussels are not fish! Seafood yes, fish no – they are mollusca, a diffent group of animals entirely. And I am horribly allergic to them after eating a bad one years ago, so beware. When my husbad has them in a restaurant (he loves them) I make him sit as far away from me as possible!

  28. Mira

    OR we were thinking, “huh, I never noticed that before…” and then moved on. :)

    I’ve been a vegetarian all my life (as are my parents), and have never had fish or any type of meat, so I tend to not notice these things, I suppose. All the same, I love reading all your recipes, since cooking is a great interest of mine.

  29. Oh mussels, how I love thee. Even better than the actual mussels has to be sopping up all the delicious liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Preferably with a hunk of crusty bread.. Mmh.

  30. Sine I am living down here at the Bottom of the World, I have missed seafood sooo much ! They have good salmon ( Patagonia?) but I miss NY seafood.
    I think I can find mussels and I will make this recipe as soon as possible. With the baguette to sop up juices. Thanks so much …

    Now about Jacob … I need to see a feature length film now, the trailer was adorable. Happy Holidays ~

  31. Hi, I wanted to tell you I absolutely love love Mussels..I never used to like seafood at all! that is until I moved to Europe..I had my first Mussels in Paris/done the French way, like this except the broiling ..and let me tell you I was hooked..I am usually such a slow eater that everyone is done before I am but oh no, not with Mussels and my husband knows that if he tries to steal even one, its off with the finger! LOL
    Have you tried the Italian way..if not do it!!!!

  32. Janet

    Another Ocean State-r who’s never noticed the lack of seafood recipes! For some reason, though, mussels creep me out a bit. That whole “pulling off the beard” thing. But they are tasty, I give you that, and this sounds delish.

    And, ohhhhhhhhhhhh! The adorablness that is a walking Jacob. Backwards! Cannot get cuter than that. Of course, I say that with every blog post and so far you have proved me wrong every single time.

  33. Love your emphasis on the wine! I’m totally with you on that one. I love mussels but have never made them at home. Yours look delicious!! Happy holidays!

    ~Heather from Snacktive

  34. Gayle S

    Whoa, these sound SO delicious! The cute video of toddling Jacob, however, surpasses even well-prepared mussels. Don’t know how you get any cooking done with such a darling kiddo who is mobile…

  35. I definitely like seafood, but I don’t cook it nearly as much as I should. I blame it on my CSA for giving me awesome steaks and chickens all the time, because I have a freezer full of meat and A) no room for seafood in the freezer and B) no reason to buy it fresh because I have so much meat!!

  36. Those looks amazing!! I love mussels for the same reasons – butter and wine. Not to mention how cheap they usually are and how simple to make! I love the idea of doing something different than my going my usual broth-y route!

  37. Victoria

    This recipe appeared in the NYT over 30 years ago–when I could go out and harvest my own in Long Island Sound. My own “little one” (now 32) would eat dozens of them right out of the steamer. I think I’ll add them to our Christmas feast. Thanks for the video too–I remember those days of having nothing on the coffee table or low shelves. Happy holidays to one of my favorite cooks!

  38. I’m curious about the refrigeration step. I’m sure there is a good purpose to it, but I don’t understand why it is there if I am not doing the preparation in phases. Could I simply put the mussels with the butter straight into the broiler without putting them into the fridge first?

  39. This mussel dish looks incredibly good and I’m looking forward to using it next week for a New Years appetizer. I’d just like to point out that it’s fine to eat mussels that haven’t opened during the initial cooking process. It isn’t that the seafood is bad, it’s just that the adductor muscle of the little guy hasn’t fully detached from the shell wall. As long as the mussel has been thoroughly cooked, the meat fine, just pry it open and check if it smells bad (inedible seafood is very easy to recognize). I found this article extremely enlightening:

    If you’re struck by the desire to cook mussels again next year, don’t just toss the closed ones! They’re probably okay! :)

  40. hey deb!

    this dish looks amazing. i’m going to have to try it. i had this amazing mussel dish at a fusion french and indian restaurant, and they served the mussels with potato samosas instead of fries and a side of channa masala with yogurt sauce. hot damn, it was good. this would be amazing with that.

    i’ll try it sometime and let you know.

    your website is amazing. i love the pictures, and i love the humor. please, keep it coming.



  41. Sarah

    I’m posting this from the bathroom of a bar I don’t want to be at. I would much mug much rather be reading your delightful prose and musings on food (and life) then at this stupid overcrowded bar waiting wayyyyy too long for a drink. Keep up the deliciousness!!!!

    1. deb

      Sarah — Oh ha! I mean, I know the feeling. Hopefully you got out of there, posthaste.

      Renee — That sounds delicious.

      Mussels that don’t open — Thanks for the clarification. I always wonder (this is my stingy nature speaking) if those that are only open a hairline (just barely) are okay. I toss them anyway because no way are they worth a stomach upset later on, especially at what is usually $3 or $4 a pound..

  42. Rebecca

    I love mussels and my favorite local restaurant took them off the menu. It’s hard to find them on the menus in Northwestern Ohio. So, I will definitely be trying this recipe. Just one question, I’m all for taking shortcuts and wonder if you could simultaneously cook and broil in the wine with the butter melted for even distribution? Thanks!

  43. mur

    Thank you, THANK YOU, for pointing the way to our New Year’s Eve dinner. We’ll make this, along with the baked ‘fries’, for our stunningly beautiful party for two. Can’t wait :)

  44. I saw this post yesterday and knew I had to have it for dinner! It turned out delicious. I was a little impatient and didn’t stick the buttered mussels in the frig – they went straight to the broiler. Couldn’t tell a difference. We also poured the reserved wine over the broiled mussels in a big bowl and ate it up with crusty bread, as suggested.

    p.s. I also attempted to make the candied grapefruit peels last night, paying careful attention to remove a lot of pith. They are drying on the rack right now, but I will post them later on my blog if you are interested in the results.

  45. li

    please share these with the tiny one at an early age. our (relatively) tiny one looooves them, and especially loves to eat them using the empty shell as the “scooper-outer.” many parents (particularly parents of of the chicken-finger-only eaters) are astounded at this ability.

  46. NicM

    For years fish and seafood was the only meat I ate so I’ve noticed the lack of recipes on here. But those things are so easy to cook that what I really need are great side dishes and you have plenty of those. My husband and I were fighting over leftover Romanesco potatoes last night and I ended up trading him all the steak for them!

  47. I hadn’t noticed the absence of fish–I guess I’m so distracted by all the other yummy things. That being said, I think this recipe looks divine! Butter and wine? How can you go wrong??

  48. FINALLY get to try these tonight for a post-family-Christmas relaxation with just my husband. Tip – don’t try to find mussels the day after Christmas when said day is a Sunday. We went to several stores and almost threw down with one lady who was buying a store out of their supply. It was a scene from a bad Christmas movie.

  49. Katie

    These were delicious. Perfect addition to XMas Eve hor’doeurve party! And it was great that you could do so much ahead of time, when your guests arrive, just pop them in the broiler! Excellent and tasty!

  50. I agree, there is nothing better then mussels cooked in white wine and butter and this recipe (and your beautiful pictures) is mouthwatering! I think mussels are perfect comfort food, they are buttery and meaty and make me forget about the blizzard going on outside my window.

  51. Teresa

    I saw fresh mussels at the store yesterday and looked at them, thinking how good they are, but didn’t buy any because I really had no clue how to cook them. Now I think I may go back and get them! Thanks for the inspiration, Deb!

  52. Angel

    I just made this recipe for my sweetheart and I for a special New Year’s Eve meal. Yum! This morning we made a trip down to Pike’s Place Market to pick out the mussels fresh from the fish monger. Thank you so much for the cleaning directions because although the mussels purchased were supposed to be pre-cleaned they were far from – so the combination of your instructions and my recent watching of Julia Child’s show on preparing mussels was the perfect instruction and inspiration for me to attempt cooking me and my love’s favorite shelled food for the last dinner of 2010. My first time cooking mussels and it was a great success -the buttery parsley shellfish were New Year’s Day in the mouth. Thank you! For anyone hesitating this recipe is worth the adventure.

  53. mur

    Indeed, this became our NY Eve final meal. We enjoyed with the potatoes, too, plus a salad & vino. All enjoyable, quite delish. And really easy too!

  54. Carrie

    We are making these tonight, we are so excited but have one question, did you use the sweet or hot smoked paprika? I bought both in the store and was unsure what to use. Any information would be wonderful! Thanks!

  55. Love mussels! They’re the easiest thing to cook and there are so many variations in what to steam them with that completely changes the flavours. A happy new year to you and yours!

  56. Yana

    We are absolutely crazy about mussels!!! I’d like to share my fav recipe for broiled mussels, which is similar to yours Deb, though I normally use frozen greenshells as they are availble where I live, unlike the ones you use.

    I normally top garlic butter (garlic, parsley, lemon juice, salt, pepper and some chillies – will try smoked paprika next time) with toasted breadcrumbs, and after they have been broiled, I just top it with a pinch of grated Parmesan and serve it with lemon wedges – party hit everytime!

  57. I prepared broiled mussels last Christmas and I am glad our visitors loved the recipe. Thanks to you. I always try your recipes and it is so amazing that you have this blog to share everything you know. You really help us in many ways.

  58. Just cooked these for the family over the weekend. My youngest is an adventurous eater so I knew he, my husband and I would enjoy them (and WE DID) – what I didn’t expect was for my two food ‘skeptics’ to enjoy them so much too! We’ll definitely be making these again – and trying new recipes for mussels, too!

  59. Helen Nelly Tsonopoulos

    In order to clean the mussels, I place them in a large bowl with cold water and two tablespoons of flour or corn meal for an hour or so. I stir them once in a while and that helps to get all the sand out. It’s from a French chef. It really works!

  60. Ahh I looove mussels and they are so easy to make. I have to try your recipe soon.
    I first ate them in a littel restaurant in Paris. They served the mussels with some garlic bread – it was delicious :)