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.  


– 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…….

…, 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….

  • Peter

    Mussels are one of my favourite foods and they are affordable. This classic with tarragon makes me dunk a whole loaf of bread.

  • Lo!

    Gotta tell you. It’s a rare occasion that I’ll turn down a batch of mussels… and I love them almost any way you can prep them. The tarragon sounds really nice here, though. I feel like it’s an herb I don’t make use of often enough.

    Now I’m thinking: Why DON’T I make mussels on a weeknight more often??!!

  • Kristie

    TinaTinaBoBina, the difference between our two blogs are very clear to me.

    1) You include instructions, implying that you have a general idea as to how you made your dish, whereas I just take a picture and attempt a description, since I tend to just black out in the kitchen for a while, and then look down as see that a meal has come about. It’s very possible that I just kind of roofie myself out and little gnomes wielding knives and stockpots come running into the kitchen to make the dinner. I wouldn’t put it past me to roofie myself.
    2) When you have a shitty day, you just talk about comfort food. I subject all (three) of my readers to a venomous monologue about how much people/San Antonio/the world suck. Then I usually allow myself a few paragraphs for self-praise, and then throw in some food as an afterthought. I guess what I’m saying is, you’re a way better blogger than I am.

    I still hate mussels…

  • Tina

    Peter/Lo! – yup, mussels are certainly cheap and cheerful, that’s why I like them!! And tarragon/white wine/mussels is such a classic combo that really doesn’t get enough air time these days. Maybe because not a lot of people like tarragon, but thankfully that doesn’t apply to me.

    Kristie – I have to take notes on what I’m putting in and how much or I would never remember, I’m also a total cook-from-the-hip kinda gal. And hey, self-administration of roofies sounds like a great prescription from time to time when sleep-eze just doesn’t cut it. Also, we both know that your blog is far more entertaining than mine will ever be, and I’m constantly astounded by both the volume and quality of food that you put out! In terms of the mussels, I’m the only one in my family that likes seafood so I totally get that.

  • Margie

    We had mussels a couple of nights ago, too! I just love ’em. I’m going to try the tarragon. I have a strong aversion to saffron, though. I’m sure they’ll be tasty with it. It really is amazing how cheap they are!

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js

    Your dish reminds me that we don’t have mussels enough. Don’t know why since they’re always available and they’re not expensive.

    Flavour combinations here are classic. This looks delicious and I want some now!

  • Kristie

    Lies, woman. Lies.

  • Kristie

    I should clarify–my blog can be entertaining, but pretty much only to people who “get” me, and that very short list includes you, and that is why you’re my BCFF (best Canada friend forever).

  • Tina

    Awwww….Kristie we have a toque with your name on it if you ever want to come and visit! Ha, there are millions of Canadians who would hate me for playing into the stereotypes like this, but that’s just what I am.

  • noble pig

    Slut of the seafood world, oh lordy that made me laugh! But I love this recipe…just beautiful sounding.

  • Mag

    One of my favorite recipes! I absolutely love it! And thanks Tina for visiting my blog 🙂

  • Heather

    I’m a huge fan of mussels. They’re probably my favorite shellfish. Especially with the herbs and white wine! Great light dinner.

  • Lisa

    Where did you find mussels for such a good price?

  • Tina

    Lisa, thank you for checking out our site! I live just north of Toronto in the suburbs and my choices are usually grocery store or grocery store….so I got these from (you guessed it!) the local grocery store – which in this case was Loblaws because it was on my way home from work.

    There is only one No Frills that I would buy seafood at (they have the best meat and seafood section of any grocery store in a 15 min radius). I like Longos and Michaelangelos, but I find them a bit pricier….Loblaws usually is as well, which is why I don’t go there too often, but I was pleasantly surprised by the price of mussels after getting irrationally angry at their price for salmon….

  • Rudolph

    Thanks – I think this is the third time I’ve Google-searched tarragon and mussels, and I always enjoy reading your recipe.