Mussels in White Wine Sauce

My friend Guy (that’s pronounced “Gee” with a hard “g”) grew up in Southern France, in Provence, near the sea. And like so many people from Provence, Guy has a passion for all things seafood, especially mussels, or as the French call them, “moules”. Mussels steamed in white wine and served in a sauce made from the cooking liquid with butter and shallots is a classic French preparation of mussels, moules mariniere. This is Guy’s method for moules mariniere, the way he grew up making it in France, and one of the easiest and loveliest ways of preparing mussels. It is wonderful for an appetizer or a light lunch, and excellent with a glass of white wine and some crusty bread.

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Mussels in White Wine Sauce Recipe

  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as an appetizer or side dish.

When purchasing mussels be sure they smell like the ocean, not fishy. Don't buy any whose shells are cracked or open or any that refuse to close their shells when you handle or tap them, those are likely dying or dead. Try to cook the mussels immediately (unwrap them as soon as you get home), but if you have to wait place them in a bowl and cover them with a damp towel so they can breathe.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds mussels, scrubbed clean under running water
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons flour (optional, omit for gluten-free version)
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley

Method

1 Put the mussels in a bowl of salted water (1 Tbsp salt per quart of water) for 10-15 minutes. Throw out any that are wide open or refuse to close when you handle them as these ones are likely dead. Looking over the closed mussels, see if any still have their beards (long hairy byssal threads which help anchor the mussel to surfaces) and pull them out, pulling slowly and strongly towards the hinge of the shell.

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2 Put 1/2 cup of dry white wine in the bottom of a large pot (at least 4-quart). Add the mussels to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. As the mussels cook, they will release their highly flavored water into the pot. Cook until shells have opened, and the mussels are just cooked, looking steamed and soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Take care not to overcook, or the mussels will be rubbery and hard. Once the mussels are cooked, carefully remove them from the pot to a bowl, one-by-one using tongs, including those that have broken loose from their shells. Do not discard the water in the pot!

3 Let the water in the pot settle for a minute. Any grit will settle to the bottom. Gently pour out the cooking water into a measuring cup, leaving the grit in the pot to discard of later. If the water you've measured out is still a little gritty, filter out the grit using a sieve.

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4 Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the shallots and cook a couple minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook a minute more. If you want your sauce to be a little thick, add a teaspoon or two of flour to the pan, stir to combine. (Otherwise skip the flour.) Slowly add about a cup of the filtered mussel cooking water to the saucepan, stirring to create a smooth sauce. Add the minced parsley to the sauce.

5 Place mussels in serving bowls. Pour some sauce over each bowl of mussels.

Serve immediately. Serve with crusty bread for dipping in the sauce.

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26 Comments

  1. Mike G

    I wonder if Guy has ever served this dish with creme fraiche?

    Guy tells me that adding creme fraiche is a good variation, as a white creamy sauce. You can also add tomatoes for more of a red sauce. ~Elise

  2. Matthew H

    I think this was re-posted? I was looking for a mussles recipe about a month or so ago and decided to go with this one…Boy was it good! I normally go with mussles marinara, but did very much enjoy this recpie. Definatly have some bread to sop up the sauce at the end!

    No, this wasn’t reposted, it’s new. But it’s a classic recipe, so you could easily have found a similar one someplace else. ~Elise

  3. kris

    in a large pot (ideally a couscoussiere) i slightly heat a large, roughly chopped onion in some butter, then add 3-4 celery stalks (washed and roughly chopped) and their leaves, and let these veggies simmer for 5-8 minutes, covered. then add 2 glasses of dry white wine, bring to the boil, reduce and simmer briefly, then add the cleaned mussels and cover. simmer for not more than 10 minutes till the shells have opened widely. during this cooking you should shake the pot several times (cover well, hold the handles with a towel, and shake vigorously–this is quite noisy, and this is another reason why the pot should be large) to evenly distribute veggies and heat. after max 10 minutes, turn off the heat. meanwhile, you will have prepared a bowl for the sauce, to be served separately for those who want it: simply place a few tablespoons of dijon mustard (not american-style)in the bowl, and add a ladle of the mussel liquid, then stir. NO flour. NO salt. spoon the mussels and their veggies in deep plates, and (ideally) serve with lots of homemade fries, and, separately the sauce. even in the best company you don’t eat mussels with a fork, but you pick the flesh from the shell with an empty mussel shell. this is how i knew moules to be made in flanders (belgium)and still enjoy making them whenever i can. the best european mussels come from zeeland, a province in holland.
    your pictures are great, as always. love your site!

  4. Karrie

    Wow these look so good. I am lucky enough to live in Kachemak Bay (Homer Alaska) We go clamming when the tides are right and we always get mussels too. I will defiantly try this the next time we get fresh mussels. I like them better then clams. If you ever want to come to Alaska, this is a great place to visit in the summer or winter. But in the summer the clams and mussels are wonderful. :)

  5. Liane

    I had the most amazing mussels with something like this sauce but the restaurant added sliced fennel and tomatoes. It was so heavenly, I asked for more bread to sop up the sauce. No shame when enjoying good food. :)

    That’s one of my favorite versions (and I will do a recipe for it soon enough), with fennel, tomatoes, and pastis, a French anise liqueur. It’s outstanding. ~Elise

  6. Angela

    J’adore moules mariniers, we go across the Rhone river from our town to Beaucaire where the restaurants alongside the canal serve moules frites (mussels with chips). Its lovely to sit alongside the water in the sunshine and watch the people pass by. The moules are served with all types of sauces, garlic and parsley and olive oil, creme fraiche, Provencal and even curry! I like them like Guy makes them…..maybe one day you’ll come and visit….

    We will! ~Elise

  7. Myrna

    Since I am not able to consume wine or any food cooked in it, I wonder if there is any other way to cook mussels?
    (The wine triggers migrane headaches.)

    Sure, look at Garrett’s recipe for Coconut Curry Mussels. It’s fabulous. Or just steam them, and dip them in melted butter to eat. Yum! ~Elise

  8. Stewart Putney

    Always a favorite in out house. A wide pan (for even cooking) and wine without any oak (fussy, but cleaner flavor) are big plusses and put this dish over the top.

    Dipping bread in the sauce with a nice glass of wine is about as good as it gets.

  9. Judy B

    Ahhhh, mussels!! Here on Penn Cove (Whidbey Island, Washington), we are so fortunate to have some of the country’s best mussels. In fact, we just had our 21st annual Penn Cove Mussels Festival! Every market and restaurant here sells these delectable morsels of briny goodness, and we’ve cooked them in so many different ways, I’ve lost count. This recipe is simple, but so elegant and flavorful. Two pounds would MAYBE feed my hubby if we made this for a main course. Around here, we often serve them (as do the restaurants) as an appetizer or as a component of a “surf and turf” dinner. At the Festival, there is always a mussel chowder competition, and that’s another favorite way to eat them.

  10. Christian Gehman

    Is there a good reason to use only one cup of the cooking liquid? … since that liquid may be the main point of the exercise? Put differently — why throw any of this delicious nectar of the gods away?

    You want a rich dipping sauce for both the mussels and crusty bread. Adding more of the liquid thins this down too much, in my opinion. You can always use that cooking liquid as seafood stock for something else, if you want. ~Elise

  11. Vicky

    I’ve made mussels in white wine sauce before but I always cook everything in 1 pot – starting with the butter and shallots/garlic, then adding wine, bringing to a boil and then adding mussels. Will have to try it this way to see if it’s even better!

    This way you can more easily strain the liquid of grit. ~Elise

  12. Linda Burt

    Judy, I lived on the rock for 3 years & agree with you that Penn Cove Shellfish offers the best mussels! Since moving from there, I now purchase Penn Cove mussels at Washington state’s Costco in 5 pound bags which my family will eat in one meal with butter toasted bread.
    Have you eaten Geoducks?

    Elise, I steam in plain water and dip them in lemon butter. I will have to try your tasty mussel recipe.

  13. Judy B

    @ Linda Burt…hello! I didn’t know Costco sold the Penn Cove mussels. We’ve always purchased right here in Coupeville, just about a mile from the mussel farm. Nice to have access to the really fresh ones. Never tried Geoduck, never even heard of them when I was growing up in Massachusetts. We dug our own longneck clams at the beach across the street from our house in Salem. Fortunately, my family owns Woodman’s Clams in Essex, MA and I order from them when I have a craving for fried clams. I know Geoducks make a good chowder, and I suspect that Skipper’s and Ivar’s probably use them, so maybe I’ve had them and don’t know it. I miss the seafood from the cold Atlantic, but at least we have the mussels!

  14. Virginia

    An unforgettable dish. One that brings back fond memories. Many years ago my husband and I were hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island. The rocks were covered with mussels. We picked them off and that night for supper I ate almost 50 mussels cooked in butter and garlic over an open fire on the beach. All that was missing was the white wine. Thank you for reminding us all about the simple pleasures of food. Virginia

  15. NJDiane

    I love mussels and this is a great recipe. I will try this with clams, too. I love your recipes. Thanks! and keep ‘em comming.

  16. Chris

    When I lived in San Diego a few years back, I used to go to a restaurant called George’s on the Cove in La Jolla. It was a beautiful place and overlooked the ocean. The rooftop restuarant was separate from the more formal dining room and we always sat outside, up there. AND… we always had the mussels in white wine with crusty bread and a bottle of Chardonay. It was fabulous. I am going to make this recipe for my guests this Easter weekend. Thank you for posting, it sounds wonderful. Can’t wait to put this together!

  17. Shain

    Just made this tonight, and it turned out wonderful. Mussels are pretty inexpensive, running about $1 a pound, and this is a rather quick and easy way to make either a light meal or appetizer on a budget that will impress.

    It’s perfect date food!

  18. Cherry

    Thank you very much for the recipe. I love your writing. However, my first attempt with this recipe did not turn well. The mussels tasted very “fishy”, and I couldn’t understand how to pour the sauce over the mussels evenly. Some mussels are shielded by their shells and the sauce can’t get to them.
    Also, do I boil the mussels with 1/2 cup white wine only (without submerging the mussels)? Maybe that’s where I went wrong. I wanted to submerge the mussels so I added more wine and water!
    Thanks again :)

    Hi Cherry, a couple of notes. First, the mussels steam in the simmering liquid, they do not boil, they do not need to be submerged. If you added more water and wine, then that would have thrown the taste way off. Second, if the mussels tasted “fishy”, that means they weren’t fresh. Third, you don’t have to worry about pouring the sauce evenly over the mussels. The sauce is more of a dipping sauce. Hope that helps! ~Elise

  19. Abigail

    I know that fresh mussels are preferable. My problem with shopping for mussels where I live is that I never know if I’ll get the fat ones or not inside the shells, sold at the local grocery stores. Recently, though, I found frozen mussels, already cooked, in a Thai/Asian market, and the package advertises they’re cleaned, sand gone, and they look very fat, indeed, and sold in 2 lb. bags. So I’m going to try to use a version of your recipe and possibly use a bottle of clam juice, since I won’t have the broth from steaming the mussels. Anyone have an alternative for heating up the already cooked/frozen mussels you find in the Asian markets? And if we do use already COOKED, frozen mussels thawed, how long do we simmer them in the broth?

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