There have been several times in my life when I was wowed by the taste of mussels in a creamy white wine broth, an elegant dish under any circumstances. When done correctly, the taste is sublime. My first amazing experience happened at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. I was visiting California at the time, traveling with two guys names Mike on a location scouting expedition for a movie we were making. We were so young, but trying to pass with an air of grown-up sophistication. We dined on mussels and drank Midori Sours and charged it all to one of our credit cards, promising to split the bill when we got home to Arizona.
The next time that a similar dish knocked my proverbial socks off was at a Santa Barbara happy hour at the Bayside Roadhouse during Fiesta Days. We ordered mussels and clams sauteed in beer. Those little shelled creatures were the epitome of delicious. It was a lucky food day because everything we ate during our visit was delightful.
Another dreamy mussel experience happened at the Enterprise Fish Company in Santa Monica. I don’t know exactly how they make their broth, but I wish I did. It’s got that flavor that would eventually have you drinking from the bowl if nobody was watching. If you sit on the patio during a light drizzle, chances are, nobody is watching, so why not?
I tried making them myself, changing a few classic ingredients for healthier ones, with pleasing results. However, for our photo shoot, I decided I didn’t want to go wrong so I followed the step-by-step video directions of some guy on youtube. Never do this. The wine sauce was horrifying, a disaster my ego could barely take. I am an excellent cook. I don’t make things that taste bitter and nasty and just plain yuck! I wound up running to the grocery store in the middle of our shoot for the ingredients that would become the anti-venom for mussel broth that bites.
Drunken mussels are not hard to make. Simply steer away from the youtube guy and follow my instructions. It doesn’t matter what your mussels prefer to drink, a dry white wine, a bit of sherry, an amber ale… they all work. The trick is not overdoing it with any one ingredient. Of course, my second trick is to add plenty of fresh veggies so that the broth has some potent nutritional value. We even added some sliced non-GMO extra firm tofu to make the broth even more fun to eat.
When preparing mussels, if you find any open mussels while cleaning them, tap their shell several times. If the mussel doesn’t close, it means that it is dead, so discard it. If a mussel doesn’t open once steamed or cooked, it is also most likely dead and not fit for consumption. If you are unsure, such as in the case when the mussel cracks open slightly, but not enough to really say “hi” to you, err on the side of safety and throw it away. Buying fresh mussels is imperative for this recipe.
2 lbs. mussels, rinsed and cleaned (all beards removed)
3 tbsp. organic butter or ghee
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups fish or free range chicken stock
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups dry white wine or 2 cups beer or 1 cup Bristol Cream sherry
2 stalks celery, diced
1 shallot, minced
1 cup baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/4 package non-GMO extra firm tofu, sliced thin or cut into small cubes (optional)
1/4 cup pimientos
1 chile de árbol or Thai pepper, finely diced
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves and stems, chopped ( you can also use cilantro)
1/4 tsp. mace
1/2 tsp. allspice
1. Keep your mussels cold and wrapped until ready for use. When ready to prepare them, rinse them under cold water in a collander . Remove their beards, the hairlike black strands that some of them may still have attached, and discard the beards. Return the clean mussels to the refrigerator.
2. In a large stock pot, melt the butter or ghee over medium heat. Add the mace and allspice.
3. Once the butter or ghee has melted, add the mushrooms, shallots, celery, garlic and diced chiles. Stir until the shallots begin to caramelize but before the garlic gets overcooked. Garlic burns easily.
4. Add the stock (fish or chicken) and coconut milk. This will stop the garlic from burning. Turn the heat down to medium low. Let simmer 2-3 minutes with the pot covered.
5. Add the wine, beer or sherry. Let simmer 4-5 more minutes.
6. Making sure to use only mussels that are closed or will close when their shell is tapped a few times, add the mussels. Simmer another 3-5 minutes, or until the mussels open. You may have to stir after 2 minutes to make sure all of the mussels are getting access to even heat.
7. Add the parsley and stir to distribute evenly.
8. Discard the mussels that did not open. Remove from heat and let the broth cool for a few minutes to let the flavors blend.
9. Serve in a wide rimmed bowl with garnish of Italian parsley, lemon slices and crusty bread. We used toasted ciabatta rolls sliced in half with excellent results. Enjoy!
Note: When preparing shellfish, always follow the directions to ensure they are safe for consumption. We did forego adding heavy cream, but if you are worried about consuming butter, you could replace it with olive oil, but I cannot guarantee the results. As always, when eating to control a health condition such as heart disease, diabetes, or autoimmune disorders, consult with your doctor or nutrition professional as to how much fat, protein and carbohydrates you should be consuming.
This recipe, as written is gluten free. f you feel the need to thicken the sauce slightly, try dissolving a little non-GMO corn starch or tapioca starch in water and adding it to the broth.