Steamed mussels in white wine, also know by the French name Moules Mariniere, is easy enough for a weeknight dinner and fun for entertaining friends and family. Mussels are both inexpensive and delicious, plus they cook quick! Serve with a loaf of crusty bread to sop up the aromatic broth. And have a soup spoon handy. No one can resist slurping up every last bit of the juices.
If you've only enjoyed these at a restaurant and never made them at home, now is the time. While traditional recipes often use only wine, sometimes I use the famous French liqueur, Pernod, for a twist on the classic recipe. You can skip this and stay with white wine. And don't buy a big bottle to experiment, get an airline sized mini bottle at a liquor store.
You'll need a pound of mussels per person along with fennel, leek, tomatoes, garlic and wine. Optionally, you can cook with half wine and half Pernod,
About Pernod and Substitutions
Pernod is a golden colored famous French liqueur created in 1920 with a lightly sweet licorice (anise) flavor. It's delicious but strong, so I occasionally use it half and half with the wine for wonderful flavor. You can substitute French Annisette or Pastis, Greek Ouzo, or Italian Sambuca with similar flavor profiles.
For no alcohol: use vegetable broth with fresh squeezed lemon juice. Another opt-in is Verjus, and unfermented (no-alcohol) grape juice.
You need a large pot with a tight fitting lid. How many you can cook at once will depend on the size of your pot. If you want them all done and served at once and you are cooking for 4 people, you will need two large pots to cook them at the same time.
If you have a very large stockpot like a 12 quart, you can do them all in 1 pot.
Fresh mussels should be closed or close themselves when tapped. This means they are alive, which is what you want. If they are closed and feel heavy for their size, they could be full of sand and dead. A good seafood counter usually sells mussel loose or in netted bags on ice. They should smell fresh like the ocean. Do not buy mussels that are chipped or broken.
Mussels are best cooked within a day of purchase. When you get them home, rinse them in cold water and place them in a large bowl half filled with ice and cover them with dampened paper towels or a kitchen towel until cooking time. Don’t leave them sealed in plastic bags as they will die.
Just before cooking, place your bowl in the sink and run cold water over the mussels. Soak for about 20 minutes. Scrub mussels with a brush and remove any dark, frizzy “beard” which is what anchors them to their mooring. Pull it off with your fingers. If it’s stubborn, you might need small pliers to remove it.
Prep the Vegetables
To make it easy, do your prep work ahead: chopping fennel, leeks and tomatoes for the broth and herbs for the garnish.
To prep your vegetables follow these tips. Cut the long celery-like stalks off the fennel bulb and discard, saving the fluffy fronds for garnish.
For the leeks, use just the white and light green portion. Slice the leek in half and run it under cold water to remove any sand or dirt, then chop into thin slices.
For a quick lesson on dicing tomatoes, follow the photos below. Slice off the top. Cut tomatoes into quarters lengthwise. Holding your knife flat and parallel to the cutting board, remove the seeds and fleshy center. Then cut the quarters into long strips, and then dice across. The thinner the strips the finer the diced tomatoes. I prefer to use Roma tomatoes.
How to Cook
Start with the vegetables. Add a little olive oil to a large pot and over medium low heat gently cook the fennel and leek in olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook one minute. Move the pan off the heat and add the Pernod (if using) and white wine. This is for safety as liqueurs have a high alcohol content and are flammable.
Safety tip - Always add alcohol to a pot off of the heat.
Place the pan back on the heat and increase to medium. Bring the broth to a boil. Add the cleaned mussels, clamp on a tight fitting lid and wait about three minutes. Quickly peak under the lid and see if the mussels have opened.
Knowing When Done
If they are opened, they are done. Place the lid back on for another minute and shake the pan to allow any closed mussels a chance to open. Turn off the heat and let the pot rest while you get the bowls. They should be served immediately while good and hot.
Serve mussels alone in a bowl, or over pasta or zucchini noodles for a low carb option. Distribute the mussels between warm bowls and divide the wonderful juices over the top. Discard any mussels that are not opened. Sprinkle with the tomatoes and parsley or fennel fronds for garnish.
Steamed Mussels in White Wine
- large pot with lid
- 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ small fennel bulb save fronds to chop for garnish, diced small
- ½ medium leek white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
- 1 large garlic clove chopped fine
- 3 ounces dry white wine or 5 ounces if not using Pernod
- 2 ounces Pernod
- 2 pounds fresh live mussels scrubbed clean and de-bearded
- 1 Roma tomato chopped fine
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped Italian parsley
- 1 small loaf bread to soak up the broth gluten-free or regular
- Place a large pot over medium-low heat and add olive oil. When warm, add the fennel and leek. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 2 minutes. Do not brown the vegetables. Add the garlic and cook one minute.
- Move the pan off of the heat and carefully add the wine and Pernod. Place the pan back on the heat and allow broth to come to a boil. Add the mussels, cover with a tight fitting lid and turn heat down to medium. Steam mussels until they have opened, about 3-5 minutes. Check pan at 3 minutes. If they are mostly opened, replace lid, shake the pan and steam 1 minute longer. Turn off heat.
- To serve, distribute mussels between two warmed bowls, spoon broth over the top and garnish with tomatoes and herbs. Serve with bread to soak up all of the broth.