Belgian Mussels with Ale

Mussels are a shellfish that don’t get nearly enough praise.  Not only are they delicious, they are also incredibly nutritious, affordable, and sustainably farm raised.  With only a handful of ingredients, mussels can go from fridge to table in under 15 minutes.  They are just as high in protein as red meat, but way lower in fat, saturated fat, and calories.  Mussels are loaded with healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, B Vitamins, and essential minerals.  And, I can always find live mussels in the grocery store for four to five dollars per pound (but there are several mussel farms in Washington State, so I’m sure they aren’t as easy to locate in other parts of the country).

File:CornishMussels.JPG

mussels growing wild on a rock

Don’t confuse shellfish farming for fish farming.  Farmed fish (especially salmon) pollute the environment, consume vast quantities of fish meal. threaten wild fish, and contain contaminants.  Farmed shellfish, on the other hand, are incredibly low impact.  Because farmed mussels filter feed from seawater, no fish meal or oils are required to feed them.  Diseases are rare, so no chemicals or drugs are required to treat them.  They are grown almost identically to how they would naturally grow in the wild and this makes them incredibly healthy and environmentally friendly.

But enough about that, lets get down to cooking them!  Cooking mussels is ridiculously easy. They only take a few minutes  and they let you know the minute they are done (they open up).  This is a traditional Belgian recipe using Belgian ale, but honestly, any type of good quality beer would work fine.  The beer really compliments the brininess of the mussels in this recipe, so don’t leave it out!  We bought a big bottle so we could drink what was left with our dinner.

This is the bottle of beer I used for this recipe

This is the bottle of beer I used for this recipe

Belgian Mussels with Ale

  • 3-4 pounds of live mussels
  • 3 TBSP butter
  • 1 medium shallot, chopped
  • 1 bulb of fennel, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 TBSP fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cup Chimay, or other Belgian ale
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 TBSP fresh parsley, chopped

Soak the mussels in a large pot or bucket of water for about 20 minutes prior to cooking to purge them of any sand, then rinse them, scrub them, and remove their “beards,” the hairy parts that are sticking out of their shells.  If any mussels are opened at this point, throw them away.  Healthy live mussels will be shut tight.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet or stock pot (one that has a lid) over medium heat.  Add shallots, fennel, salt and thyme and saute until soft and translucent (3-5 minutes).  Pour in the ale and bring to a boil.  Add the mussels and cover with the lid.

Cook covered for about 5 minutes, or until mussels begin to open.  Remove the lid and remove any opened mussels with a slotted spoon and place them in a separate bowl.  As every mussel opens, remove it immediately.  After ten minutes, throw away any mussels that haven’t opened.  Add another tablespoon of butter and some pepper to the sauce left in the pan and raise the heat to medium-high, stirring constantly until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 3-5 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir in the fresh parsley.

Pour the sauce from the pan over the mussels and serve immediately with a loaf of crusty bread.

mussels with ale 2

This recipe serves 4 to 8 people, depending on how many other dishes you are serving

Cheers to this lovely little bivalve for being so healthy and delicious!  It was a huge hit with my family and our dinner guests.

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9 thoughts on “Belgian Mussels with Ale

  1. Oh, yum! I’ve been craving shellfish lately – had a dream with mussels a few weeks ago. Maybe your post will push me into actually buying/preparing some!

    Also, you do SUCH a good job of advocating for wild/sustainable seafood, Robin. Thanks for taking the care to explain farmed fish/shellfish to your readers.

    • Thanks Tele,
      These are REALLY easy to make and VIS Seafoods has mussels for $5 a pound. You should definitely get some!
      Zed admitted that he forgets how good mussels taste because they are basically a weed in the water, growing on everything (including boats). He thinks of them more as a nuisance than a food, but he loved these ones anyway.
      -Robin
      P.s. congrats again on your book deal!

  2. Im Hungery now! Love mussels. I live in Sedro Woolley WA, and go to Anthonys in Anacordes to get them all the time but never cooked them my self. But now i am. Thank You

    • Hi Ken,
      Do you have a seafood market in Sedro Woolley? If not, I know the Haggen stores carry local mussels. Or you can take a drive out to Taylor’s shellfish farm on Chuckanut Drive. I hope you try cooking mussels. They are so easy! Enjoy!
      -Robin

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