Many moons ago I was a college student, and like most college students I was lazy, broke, and inept in the kitchen. I relied heavily on a steady diet of pizza, instant noodles, and cheap beer. Fixing a fancy dinner for my girlfriend meant deep-frying a frozen puck of “chicken,” and placing it on top of a pile of overcooked spaghetti – boot-leg chicken parm, if you will. Looking back, my idea of “good food” was embarrassing and it’s downright amazing my girlfriend stuck around and eventually agreed to be my wife. Had I known this cheap and simple recipe for mussels and white wine as a college student, I may have been able to seal the deal with her sooner because it’s now one of her favorite dishes. This fine fare can turn a kitchen zero into a hero, and as an added bonus, it just happens to be quick, easy, and cheap to make.
This meal for two, including the wine (Charles Shaw Pinot Grigio, aka “Two Buck Chuck” don’t knock it until you try it), cost just over $10 and can be made in less than 20 minutes start to finish. With these little bivalves being both an aphrodisiac and cheaper than a date at most any restaurant that doesn’t have a drive thru, I can’t see why every college kid isn’t lining up to get their hands on these.
To get started, you first need to acquire some fresh mussels. Your local fishmonger should be able to help steer you away from mussels that are not healthy and alive. You want to be sure they are alive when they hit the pot because dead shellfish could potentially make you sick. For this reason, I recommend that you don’t purchase your mussels until the day you plan to cook them. Mussels are cheap. There is absolutely no reason to risk it. When in doubt, throw it out.
After you purchase your mini-mollusks, keep them in the refrigerator on top of a plastic bag of ice until it’s time to cook. Don’t seal them up in a container because they will suffocate.
When it’s time to cook, melt half a stick of butter in the pan over medium-high heat. After it has melted, add the shallots and garlic. Sautee for two minutes or until soft, then crank the heat to high and add the dry white wine. A pinch of salt and pepper couldn’t hurt at this point.
Time to throw in the mussels. They should be closed when you are ready to toss them in. If they are open, give them a tap and see if they start to close. If they don’t, throw them out. Likewise, if the shells don’t open back up after cooking, throw them out. It’s not worth getting sick. Again, when in doubt, throw them out.
After verifying they are all alive, dump your mussels in the pot, and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook for 7-10 minutes. You want continue to cook until the majority of the shells have opened. You may get lucky and have all of them open. If there are one or two that have not, do not keep cooking as you will just make the rest rubbery. There is no sense in ruining the whole lot because of a stubborn few. The 10-minute mark is about the longest you will want to cook them. Then simply toss any unopened shells.
When the cooking is done, add in your chopped parsley and give the pot a good shake with the lid pressed firmly to coat the shells. To plate, dip out several shells into a shallow bowl. Ladle some sauce over the top and add an extra pinch of fresh parsley. Since this dish is all about simplicity, I often forgo the bowl and put a potholder or trivet on the table and place the entire pot front and center.
Finally, pour a glass of wine, tear off a piece of good crusty bread and dig in. If you are trying to impress your date, add a few tea candles and some Marvin Gaye while you describe the culinary skill it took to prepare Moules à la Marinière (“mussels in white wine”). It should do the trick.
- 4TBS of butter
- 2 shallots thinly sliced
- 2 cloves of minced garlic
- 2 cups of dry white wine
- 3-4lbs of mussels
- ½ cup of chopped parsley
- Over medium-high heat melt butter in sauce pan.
- Sautee shallots and garlic until soft (2 minutes)
- Turn heat to high and add dry white wine
- Add live mussels and cook for 7-10 minutes until the majority of the shells are open
- Do not cook longer than 10 minutes.
- Add chopped parsley (reserving a few pinches for garnish) cover with a tight fitting lid and toss to coat the mussels in the sauce.
- Plate in a shallow bowl
- Ladle sauce over top and sprinkle with a bit of fresh chopped parsley.