Mussels in Belgian Ale Broth

Monday, April 13, 2009

When Kate, her husband, and I ate at Tuli recently we all moaned and gushed over a dish of mussels. Brewed up with Belgian ale, smoked ham, onions and dijon mustard all proper manners went out the window once the plate was set down. Sure we were provided with dainty forks but nimble fingers picking through broth and shells and scraping out the bits of sweet meat with our teeth was embraced with gusto. The spicy sweet broth was eagerly soaked up with whatever bread we could find, indeed, the waitress couldn't bring it fast enough. An insouciant dish, bohemian-chic even; one that's perfect for a Sunday brunch or impressing your guests. Plus, mussels are crazy cheap and sustainable, a perfect dish for a budget dinner party.

*Forgive the picture, but my roommate and I were ravenous and the steam kept screwing up the lens. You'll have to take my word that the dish is to die for.

When purchasing mussels be sure they smell like the ocean, not fishy. Be sure not get get any where the shells are cracked or open or any that refuse to close their shells as they're dying or dead. Try to cook them immediately, but if you have to wait place them in a bowl and cover them with a damp towel so they can breathe.

Mussels in Belgian Ale Broth
Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as an appetizer or side dish

2 lbs. Mussels
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small shallots, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup of diced pancetta or ham
2 cups Belgian or other ale (I used Fat Tire)
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Dash of cayenne pepper
chopped fresh parsley
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Place the mussels in a bowl of cold water to allow them to filter out their grit and sand. let them sit for about 10 minutes. Wash and scrub the mussels and throw out any that are open and refuse to close as these ones are 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, yanking towards the hinge of the shell. Place them in another bowl of fresh, cold water and let sit for another 5 minutes to allow them to clean themselves again.

2. Place a large pot over medium heat and add the oil until glistening. Add the ham or pancetta and cook for a few minutes until fragrant and slightly browned. Add the garlic and shallots and cook until slightly translucent, about a minute. Add the onions and cook for another minute or two.

3. Add the ale and chicken stock and bring to a boil.

4. Place the mussels in a steaming basket over the boiling liquid and cover. Steam for about 3-5 minutes or until all the mussels have opened. Set the mussels aside for a moment, allowing the liquid to boil down for about 4 minutes. Discard any mussels that didn't open (they were dead before you cooked them).

5. Add the butter, Dijon mustard, and two or three good dashes of cayenne pepper and allow to boil until the butter melts.

6. Add the mussels back to the pan and boil for 2 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour the whole thing into a large serving bowl, garnish with parsley and serve immediately with crusty bread. I suggest putting a bowl to collect the mussel shells on the table so as to keep some room on your plate.

Note: Save the mussel shells. Wash them under cold water. Add them to a large stock pot with onion, celery, carrot, parsley, shallots, and whatever spices you like (I think I used bay, thyme, and peppercorns) and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce for a few hours into basic mussel stock perfect for soups and risottos.


  1. I love mussels. I really love the buttery broth you made. Coconut-curry versions are tasty too, but this one is classic.

  2. Oh these were sooooo gooood! I seriously wanted to bring that big bowl to my mouth and drink in all that sauce. I would have taken it home in a to-go cup if I thought they would have taken me seriously. ;)

  3. I am going to make these tonight! What a gift... Thank you

  4. Great picture, great post. I love mussels and now I want some! Thanks G.

  5. Great tip on using the empty mussel shells to make seafood stock. Yum!

  6. Don't allow the mussels to sit very long after you pull off the beard. Pulling off the beard kills cook them relatively soon.


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