Red Wine & Garlic Steamed Mussels

Sometimes we have days that are rotten. Possibly not for any particular reason – or maybe for multiple reasons built up over a number of days or hours. Terrible, down right, miserable days. Days where you’re sure that even the dog across the street is out to get you, and he’s giving you the stink-eye as you walk by the yard. Days where you get to work and realize you have a giant coffee stain on your “inner thigh” and that’s probably why your co-workers were avoiding you. Days when you get bad news and don’t know how to deal with it. I always find that on days like this I crave quality time with my husband and some comfort food. (FYI Mom: I am okay – nothing bad happened, just having a “no particular reason” kinda bad day)

For some people comfort food conjures up images of meaty layers of pasta in a lasagna or onion-rich pot roast with buttery mashed potatoes. Other heavy dishes such as mac-and-cheese or loaded burgers may come to mind. All no doubt lovingly prepared by your mother and/or grandmother throughout your childhood. I’ll admit my comfort foods do not mirror these typical ones, many being a bit “lighter” and non-traditional than those loved by most (although I’m not one to say no to the above dishes). However, a good number of my comfort foods do remind me of my mom and family. My brother and I were lucky children who had parents that made us “try everything once” and didn’t keep any food from us since it was “adult food” and too expensive for kids to enjoy. We got to eat whole lobsters, oysters, liver and other offal, and any ethnic food they were eating. If it was good enough for them, it was good enough for us kids to try at least once. Lucky for our parents, once we got over our fear of onions, animal fat and mushrooms, my brother and I were not picky eaters. Or maybe that wasn’t lucky for them: seeing as they had to share their food with us.

Because of this exposure to all kinds of food at a young age, my comfort foods include mussels, chicken livers (blah to some, but oh so delicious to me), shrimp, tacos, and popcorn (not unusual, but this always reminds me of weekend movie nights with my family). I’d have to include caesar salad in this category as well. I’m sure many people may say this, but without exaggeration, my mom truly makes the best caesar salad. So incredibly garlicky and creamy. So today – an utterly crummy day – Kyle and I prepared a delicious dinner of mussels steamed with garlic, tomatoes, and wine and a big ‘ol bowl of caesar salad. And all is right in the world.

Red Wine, Tomato & Garlic Steamed Mussels

This recipe serves 2 people. But it’s easily adapted to serve more – you don’t necessarily have to “double” or “triple” the ingredients to serve 4-6 (other than the amount of the mussels). Basically you’re making a flavourful broth for the mussels to steam in. If you are serving 6 people, you could still get away with only about 1 cup of wine … but if you want a lot of leftover liquid to dip bread into, go ahead and add up to 1 1/2 cups for 6 servings. You may also want to increase the garlic as well. Just remember to cook approximately 1 lb of mussels per person. 

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 – 1/2 tsp chili flakes
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
pinch of saffron (optional)
2 tomatoes, diced
1/4 tsp pepper
3/4 cup dry red wine
2 lbs mussels
1 Tbsp cold butter
1 Tbsp basil, chopped (optional)
1 Tbsp parsley, chopped (optional)
1 small baguette (optional…well, not really)

Heat oil in a large heavy-bottom pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, chili flakes, and salt. Saute for about 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add saffron (optional), tomatoes, and pepper. Cook for another 4 minutes or until tomatoes start to break down. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add mussels and steam for about 5 – 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Mussels are done, when nearly all of them are opened up. Stir in butter and let melt. Toss with basil and parsley if desired.

Remember to discard any mussels that are not open. Serve with lots of bread to sop up the broth.

Serves 2.


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  1. #1 by Lea Johnston on August 17, 2011 - 7:10 am

    I am sitting here crying–it is always rewarding to parents when they learn from their kids that how they raised them as children was a good thing. I truly believe your love of food comes from this crazy family and your incredible talent to create fabulous dishes is due to the encouragment to at least try it.

    P.S. Thanks for letting me know you are just having a crappy day becasue you were right I was worrying and ready to call you

    hugs and kisses

  2. #2 by Gorging George on August 17, 2011 - 5:18 pm

    Well it sounds like they were tears of joy, so I am glad that you liked the post. You guys are the best parents – now we’re fearless when it comes to food!

  3. #3 by Janice Lutz, Aunt Jan on September 7, 2011 - 6:59 pm

    Hi Gina. I love your blog, your revelations and your enthusiasm for food, family, travel and life.
    I hope September is a better month than August was. Life is challenging sometimes, but we rise to it and embrace it, just like you said – you appreciate the small things. Life’s experiences shape us and change us everyday. Here’s to no more crappy days – but if you do have one – raise a glass of wine and pretend I am raising one with you, because if I could, I would. Love, Jan

  4. #4 by Gorging George on September 7, 2011 - 9:25 pm

    Thanks Aunt Janice. I am glad you are enjoying it. This site started as a way to share recipes, but it has also become a great outlet. I will raise a glass of wine with you this weekend – in celebration of how lovely life can be! Missing all of you out on the East Coast.

  5. #5 by camille on May 12, 2013 - 5:23 pm

    hey, i tried your recipe tonight for mother’s day cuz it was very simple and i had all the ingredients on hand- my parents loved it and were surprised tht i could make something tasty like this! i was shocked too, but i may have added too much red pepper flakes, more than what u had i will do less of that and less parsley. i used too much parsley as well…but the sauce was amazing, thanks for sharing such a tasty and easy recipe

  6. #6 by Gorging George on May 13, 2013 - 11:27 am

    I am glad you and your parents enjoyed the recipe! Yes, maybe a little more chili flakes would be more tolerable ;)

  7. #7 by Laurie on October 12, 2013 - 4:29 pm

    I was just cruising to find a mussel recipe that might mimic the best I’ve ever had. Don’t know yet if this is it; haven’t done it yet! But the blog is great, recipe sounds close to what I’m looking for. If unexpected company hadn’t shown up today, I’d have tried tonight. It’s making me salivate.

  8. #8 by Gorging George on October 12, 2013 - 8:11 pm

    I hope you enjoy the mussels Laurie!

  9. #9 by Paul Miller on March 23, 2014 - 10:20 pm

    Any particular reason why mussels that don’t open should be discarded? Surely this was debunked as a reasonable precaution years ago.
    I hate to think of all the good food that has gone to waste because of this myth.

  10. #10 by Gorging George on March 24, 2014 - 9:28 am

    Hi Paul,
    The reason you are to discard any mussels that didn’t open after cooking is that they were likely dead prior to starting the cooking process. Consuming them could lead to some very uncomfortable food poisoning. If it’s a myth and it’s been debunked, I haven’t heard that news. I myself wouldn’t run the risk of eating them … While you may not like the idea of wasting food, surely you won’t want to waste your time in the bathroom either! ;)

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