Mussels With White Wine and Tarragon
Mussels get cooked in my house on a far too infrequent basis considering how much I enjoy them. The thing is, when I have the luxury of time on my hands I’ll do some slow-cooking, something that requires a bit more prep work, or something that I haven’t tried before. But then there are those other nights when I come home exhausted and feeling defeated by the world, and all that I want is something quick and easy…but I still refuse to resort to sandwiches. Unless they’re grilled cheese. And then I make no apologies for myself.
The added benefit of making mussels in a white wine sauce is that you’re obligated to open up a bottle of wine whilst prepping for the dinner, and if it HAS been ‘one of those days’ then chances are good that a nice deep glass won’t do you any wrong. And really, once the bottle is opened it has to be drunk, right? What a dreadful shame it would be to let a good wine turn. These are the ways in which I excuse my behavior.
In terms of making mussels a meal, as you can imagine you want to have on hand plenty of nice crusty bread to soak up all of that delectable briny and white winey goodness. Add a small salad on the side and you have yourself a fantabulous light and fundamentally fuss-free meal in less than the time that it takes to say, “No, I DON’T want to talk about how my day went.” If you aren’t into eating mussels as a meal, these also make a delightful starter for your guests.
One final note, because I’m always concerned with price point: mussels are totally the slut of the seafood world. They sell themselves cheap. I like that about them. Today I almost considered buying a 5 oz filet of salmon for $7.50, wondered who in the hell would actually be okay with that price, and then bought my two pounds of mussels for $5 CAD. And I was happy, for at least 10 minutes…maybe even 15.
Mussels With White Wine And Tarragon
Serves: 4 as an appetizer or 2-3 as a meal
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 1/2 medium yellow onion
- 1 tbsp fresh tarragon *
- 2 tbsp fresh chives
- 1.5 cups Pinot Grigio
- pinch saffron
- 2 tbsp salted butter
- 2 lbs mussels
* Sorry guys, but dried totally doesn’t cut it. And if you don’t like the flavor of tarragon, well, sadly I can’t give you a substitute because it’s the tarragon that makes the dish for me. I suppose that you could make it with oregano and it would be equally tasty (perhaps using a thirsty sauvignon blanc instead of the pinot) but I’m just not feeling that. And…and I’m still grumpy. So that’s that.
Righty-o. As you can imagine, you begin by chopping the onions and mincing the garlic.
Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a large heavy bottomed pot, and saute these scent-suals until the onions are translucent. Add in a pinch of saffron at this point.
Now how much is a pinch? It’s literally the wee teensy amount that you can pinch between your forefinger and thumb. Think about 8 strands of saffron. Or, in my case, about a 1/2 tsp because I have the crappiest saffron ever. I don’t think it’s even saffron of inferior quality, I think I got had and they sold me pot-pourri with a bit of food coloring. It’s a travesty, really. Well, that’s what you get when you buy one of the world’s most expensive spices at your local No Frills. Sigh. And I swear that’s NOT because I’m grumpy, it’s honestly just because I have C-grade saffron in my pantry.
Pour in the cup and a half of white wine and let this simmer away for a few minutes until it reduces slightly. Not too long though, because we’re hungry and this is a fast and easy meal.
When the wine has simmered away for about 5 minutes and you’re starting to feel good about things, add in the two tablespoons of salted butter. Because you know what cheers me up almost as much as a nice glass of wine when I’ve had a bad day? Butter. I would have said carrots, but I try not to lie to you too often.
When the butter is melted add in the mussels.
BUT WAIT!! BEFORE YOU DO THAT!!!
- make sure that they’re cleaned and rinsed, so any bits of beard/flotsam that are sticking to them should be removed.
- any mussels that are open and stay open when you tap gently on the shell should be thrown out.
Okay, now we’re ready to add the mussels. Give them a quick stir and cover the pot, leaving it over medium heat. You can ignore the whole jin bang show for about 8 minutes as the mussels steam in that flavorful juice.
Alright, as the mussels steam chop up the tarragon and chives.
Check on the mussels after about 8 minutes. Are they open? Do they look cooked? They likely do, so take them off the heat. Here’s the thing – if about 80% or more are open then they’re probably done. If you see just a few that are open and a whole whack which are just slightly slit, cover it again for another minute or two.
The key is that we don’t want to overcook our fruits of the sea, because mussels go from deliciously sweet and delicately soft to booger-rubber in about 2-3 minutes….so keep an eye on them. Even if they’re about half open you can still take them off the heat and just leave them covered for another 3-5 minutes or so. They will continue to steam (and therefore cook), just a bit more gently. Give them a final toss to make sure that all that delicious wine laden goodness is being put to good use.
Serve the mussels in a big bowl with plenty of that delicious sauce (include a bowl on the side for shells) and lots of crusty bread for dipping. There was also a salad here for us, but you’ll have to just pretend because I was a bit too focussed on the mussels and bread. I do love me my mussels.
I will also admit: Mike and I ate this all on our own. We had no guests, and that’s a pound of mussels each. Plus bread and salad. Normally when I make these kind of admissions I feel guilty, but tonight? Not so much. I had a bad day. And these mussels are goooooooood…….
…..like, really good. Good enough that in two hours or less I might be civil to the telemarketers again. Yes, these mussels make me *that* happy. And sure, I would love to check out your newspaper for the next two weeks, free of charge. Thank you for asking. And do you have any pinot left, because I seem to have drank all of mine? Just asking….