One of my favorite and easy-to-make seafood dishes is mussels in saffron-cream sauce; the recipe below is one I often make. Although mussels were once a staple in the diet of Native Americans in The Chesapeake region, local harvesting of mussels is now just for the recreational fisherman.
The Maryland Department of Environment has maps of where it is safe to harvest mussels and oysters within the Chesapeake. I have yet to find any local commercial watermen that harvest mussels. But, as the health of The Bay continues to improve we may see a comeback in locally supplied mussels.
I may get adventurous and harvest my own; if so, I’ll let you know if that happens. For now, I pick them up at the grocery store. They usually come from Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada and are farm grown. Mussels are alive when you buy them and need air, so don’t let the check-out folks tie them shut in a plastic bag or you’ll end-up having some or all of them die. Alternatively, you can close the bag, but make sure to poke a few holes in it so the mussels can still get air.
I always rinse them in cold water and sort the mussels prior to cooking. As the PEI mussels are cleaned prior to shipping, it’s usually not too much work. Any opened mussels that won’t close once they are tapped or sprayed with water should be tossed, as they are dead. In the two pounds shown here, I only found one dead mussel and only had to scrape off the beard of three or four.
The recipe below is great for when you are short on time. If you have your mise en place prepared, the dish can come together and be ready for the table in 15 minutes or less. I will often leave out the cream and saffron and that provides a bit lighter dish, but wine, cream and saffron are a great treat. We always serve this dish with a nice crusty bread, as dipping the bread in the saffron-cream sauce may be the best part of the meal. Serve them with a salad and a nice Chardonnay and you’ll have a lovely meal with little effort.
Another option is to serve the mussels over your favorite pasta. A photo gallery below shows steps in the preparation, followed by the formal recipe. If you try this recipe, I’d love to hear what you think. ♦
Mussels in saffron cream sauce
Yield 4 – 8
4 pounds of mussels
6 to 7 tablespoons of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
3 large shallots finely chopped (or one onion)
3⁄4 teaspoon of sea salt
2 cups Chardonnay or dry white wine
2 cups of cream
3 to 4 tablespoons liquid saffron (or two teaspoons of saffron threads) I use Golchin Liquid Saffron
pepper to taste
3 tablespoons of flat leaf parsley chopped
- Rinse and scrub mussels under cold water, as needed.
- Most PEI mussels have already been scrubbed, so you’ll be removing any beards (the bits of seaweed hanging from the shell). Just use a paring knife or your fingers.
- At the same time check for any opened mussels, if they close with the tap of your finger or as you run them under cold water they are still alive, if not, toss them.
- In a large stockpot with lid, set over medium heat, add olive oil, shallots, garlic and salt.
- Once the shallots are translucent add your wine. Use a quality of wine you would drink. If you wouldn’t drink, don’t use it in this recipe.….it’s the sauce that makes this dish.
- Simmer 5 minutes.
- Add the mussels, cream and liquid saffron and pepper (if using saffron threads put them in while sautéing the onions) cover, and increase heat to high.
- Cook until all mussels are open, about 5 minutes
- Pull from the heat and stir in fresh chopped parsley
- Toss out any unopened mussels
You can use onions in place of shallots. I have used both red and white onions with good results.
If you decide to forego the cream and saffron you’ll still have a nice sauce. Another option is instead of adding cream and saffron, after you have cooked the mussels add four or five pats of butter along with some fresh basil.
The mussels can be served in large bowls or over pasta. I’d recommend having an empty bowl or two for the shells.
The picture shows two pounds of mussels, more than enough for two or three people.
For two pounds of mussels, as shown, just cut the listed ingredients in half.
Courses Dinner or Appetizers