Fresh mussels steamed in tomato sauce and served over pasta is the ultimate comfort food! Luckily, fresh mussels are readily available these days AND they are easy to prepare.
One of my favorite comfort foods is a big bowl of mussels with crusty bread. If you’ve never had mussels before, they are like clams or oysters and have a briny flavor and firm, but creamy texture. Unlike clams or oysters, however, I’ve never eaten mussels raw and prefer them in a rich sauce.
Take this tomato sauce with bacon and wine, for example. This is one of those dishes that you might only think to order in a restaurant, but it’s actually very doable in a home kitchen! Let’s dig in and make some mussels.
HOW TO SHOP FOR MUSSELS
Fresh mussels are readily available these days, but it’s important to check for freshness. Fresh mussels should be alive; their shells should be closed, or if they are slightly open, they should close if you tap them lightly.
You can always ask your fishmonger where they came from specifically and how long ago they were harvested. The mussels should smell fresh, like the ocean, but not fishy at all.
HOW TO STORE AND CLEAN MUSSELS
Once you buy the mussels, you can keep them on ice in the fridge for a day or two without worry. Generally, I try to buy mussels the same day or the day before I’m planning on cooking them.
The only step you have to do to clean the mussels is to remove the “beard.” This is a tiny, almost furry piece that sticks out of the side of each mussel—it’s how they attach to rocks. It isn’t edible. (You can see it sticking out of the right-hand side of the musse in the photo above.)
Go through each mussel and just pull this off if you see it. It might not be on every single mussel, but it’s a good idea to check. Once you have removed the beards, rinse all the mussels with cold water; to get the mussels very clean, scrub them gently under cold water. Then they are ready to cook!
MAKING THE TOMATO SAUCE
This hearty tomato sauce has a lot going on, but to cut down on the cooking time, I’d recommend using a jarred marinara sauce rather than starting with canned tomatoes, which would require a longer simmer time to break down.
If you want to make a sauce from scratch, however, by all means go for it. Our basic tomato sauce should work great. You’re going to be adding to it, anyway!
Start the sauce with some bacon in a skillet and the fat will start to melt. Then add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper, and cook for a minute.
Deglaze your pan with wine (or you can use vegetable or seafood stock) to scrape up any bits stuck to the pan and pour in the marinara. Bring the marinara mixture to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes over low heat.
Once the sauce has simmered, add all your cleaned mussels, cover the skillet, and let them steam for five minutes until they have all opened. Any mussels that haven’t opened after five minutes should be discarded.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH MUSSELS
There are two options for serving these mussels.
- Appetizer! Serve the sauce and mussels as a hearty appetizer with crusty bread. Use the bread to sop up the delicious sauce and people can scoop out as many mussels as they want. YUM.
- Dinner! Cook and drain a pound of spaghetti, and add about 3/4 cup (or more) of marinara sauce from the skillet to the spaghetti and stir to combine. Divide the spaghetti among plates and then top with more sauce and mussels. Garnish the spaghetti with fresh parsley. It’s a real treat!
MUSSELS DO NOT MAKE GOOD LEFTOVERS
Mussels, unfortunately, don’t store well once they are cooked. I would plan on eating any leftovers in a day or two by gently reheating the sauce and mussels over low heat on the stovetop with a splash of water.
I wouldn’t freeze the sauce. Cooked frozen mussels are not a thing. Their texture gets mushy and they lose their fresh flavor.