This illustrated step-by-step guide to the easiest steamed mussels recipe you’ll ever make is a great one to keep in your back pocket. It takes less than 30 minutes, as few as five ingredients, and it’s a cinch to memorize, because none of the measurements are set in stone. You can tweak ingredients as you please, but we’ve included three delicious variations to get you started.
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 enough for company and probably not one you’d have every day (i.e., hello, Valentine’s Day dinner), 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. (With minimal cleanup too, since you don’t even have to measure; just one pan, whether a skillet or a Dutch oven, will do it.)
Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven, $359.99 at Sur la Table
Once you’ve mastered this technique you can steam mussels effortlessly, anywhere, anytime—and feel free to buy a pound or two whenever they look particularly tempting at the fish market. You’ll know just what to do with them.
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.
Related Reading: The Best Places to Buy Seafood Online in 2020
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 or Dutch oven 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.
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.
Pernod, $35.99+ on Drizly
Then sit back and enjoy the one-pan masterpiece you’ve made in under 30 minutes:
Steamed Mussel Recipes
Try some variations on the classic flavors when you’re ready to branch out.
Green chiles and red bell pepper join the onion for this one, which also features garlic, chipotle, smoked paprika, and cumin (just for starters). Get the Smoked Chile Mussels recipe.
A drizzle of cream enriches the sauce for this rendition, made with a slightly bitter Belgian ale instead of the usual wine. Fresh fennel gets sauteed with the onion to start things off. Get our Mussels with Fennel, Lemon, and Belgian Ale recipe.
Original story by the Chowhound Food Team, updated by Caitlin M. O’Shaughnessy and Jen Wheeler. All photos by Chris Rochelle for Chowhound, unless otherwise noted.