Briny mussels, creamy lemony broth, garlic, shallots...could you ask for a better pairing of flavors?
Come holiday season, seafood is always on my mind. And these creamy, garlicky, lemony mussels are no exception!
Because my family is from the western coast of India, seafood has always been pivotal in my cooking repertoire. While I love a warm crab stew or my mom's tomato and coconut fish curry, there is a special place in my heart for mussels.
I love the soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture of a mussel, and living in New England, they're easy to come by. Mussels are also highly customizable! Steamed mussels are delicious in so many types of broths, from the classic white wine garlic sauce to a spicy coconut curry.
What's Special About These Mussels in Cream Sauce
One of my favorite flavor combinations is the pairing of rich cream with lemon and garlic. When the mussels steam in this creamy sauce, they add a savory, subtle brininess to the broth to balance out the richness.
- A lot of classic mussels recipes call for wine, but here, I opt for lemon zest and lemon juice which provide a nice level of acidity and citrusy flavor.
- A touch of dijon mustard offers a bit of tang and rounds out the creaminess of the broth.
- A generous amount of aromatics, like garlic, shallots, and parsley make this an utterly addicting sauce; you will want to drink it up!
Never cooked with mussels before? Don't worry - they're not as intimidating as you may think! I'll walk through how to prep, clean, and cook them so you can feel confident doing it on your own.
Let's talk a little bit more about key ingredients here!
- Mussels: When purchasing mussels, I often opt for fresh farm-raised varieties. Farm-raised mussels are much cleaner and tend to be more sustainable. If you can find PEI mussels, they're a great variety to cook with, as they are moderately sized and have a sweet flavor. For serving, the rule of thumb is that you need about 1 to 1 ½ pounds mussels per person. However, I find that my husband and I have leftovers when we cook a 2 pound bag of mussels; for us, 2 pounds usually yields 3 servings. When in doubt, feel free to ask your fishmonger at your local grocery store or seafood market for tips on mussel varieties and servings.
- Lemon: Lemon helps cut the richness of the cream and pairs really well with the other aromatics here. When I can, I always use the zest in addition to the juice to really amp up the lemony flavor.
- Garlic: To me, mussels and garlic are a match made in heaven!
- Clam juice: Because we're not using wine here, a bit of clam juice helps form the broth. I usually go for Bar Harbor Clam Juice, but fish stock or shrimp stock works too.
- Heavy cream: Make sure to use heavy cream in this recipe -- anything lighter will curdle from the lemon juice.
- Flour: A tablespoon of flour thickens the broth slightly and offers insurance against any potential curdling. The resulting texture has an almost chowder-like feel.
- Parsley: Fresh parsley brightens up the rich broth.
How to Store Mussels Before Cooking
After bringing your mussels home, remove them from the bag they're in and place in a colander set over a rimmed plate to collect any water. Cover the mussels with a damp paper towel and store in the fridge.
Don't soak the mussels in water or place them in an airtight container, as that can kill them.
With this method, you can usually store the mussels in the fridge for 2 to 4 days, though I personally prefer to make them the same day I buy them.
How to Clean and Debeard Mussels Before Cooking
Unlike clams which are often quite sandy, farm-raised mussels are usually much cleaner. Here are the steps to cleaning mussels before cooking:
- Rinse: Transfer the mussels to a colander and rinse them under cold water. I usually grab two or three at a time and rub the shells with my fingers to remove any sand, debris, or stuck-on bits. For more stubborn, stuck-on dirt, you can scrub them with a brush.
- Throw out any dead mussels: As you're rinsing the mussels, you'll notice most of them are likely closed, but a few are slightly open. To check if they're alive, gently tap any open mussels; if they're alive, they should slowly close. If they remain open, they're dead and you can toss them.
- Debeard: The last step to clean mussels is to "debeard" them. The "beard" is a bundle of filaments that the mussel uses to attach itself to surfaces. It looks like a bundle of hair-like fibers on the side of the mussel. The beard itself is not inedible, but it's not super pleasant to eat. To remove the beard, firmly pull the beard with your thumb and forefinger towards the hinged part of the mussel. Some beards are stubborn, and you may need to yank hard to remove it.
How to Make Mussels in Cream Sauce
- Melt butter in a dutch oven. Saute the garlic, lemon zest, and shallots for 8 to 10 minutes until soft and translucent.
- Whisk flour into the pan until no clumps remain, and continue whisking for about 1 to 2 minutes until mixture thickens into a golden paste and there is no raw flour smell.
- Add in clam juice (or fish stock) and mustard, and bring mixture to a boil, whisking frequently to ensure the flour paste fully melts into the liquid (scrape up any bits at the bottom if needed).
- Reduce the heat to a simmer, then stir in heavy cream.
- Add the cleaned mussels and half of the parsley to the pot, stirring to combine. Cover pot with a lid, and simmer the mussels on medium heat.
- Steam the mussels for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, transfer any opened mussels to a serving bowl with a slotted spoon. Continue steaming any remaining mussels until they're opened. Discard any mussels that haven't opened after 10 minutes (they're dead).
- Remove the pot from the heat, then stir in a squeeze of lemon juice, to taste.
- Transfer the remaining mussels and cream sauce to the serving bowl. Garnish with the remaining parsley. Serve hot!
How to Serve These Mussels
The simplest (and most delicious) way to serve these mussels is with a side of lemon wedges and some crusty, toasted bread. You can even rub the toasted bread with garlic for a little extra flavor - so good!
Here are some other ways to serve them up:
- Make a simple green salad to eat with these creamy mussels.
- Fry up some homemade french fries for a mussels-frites-situation.
- Serve alongside this socca (chickpea pancake) with herb salad.
Store leftover mussels in cream sauce in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days. Personally, I prefer to eat leftover mussels within a day of cooking.
Reheating Instructions: Separate the shells from the meat. Meanwhile, reheat the broth on the stove on a low simmer until hot. Add the meat to the broth, then cover the pot and allow to simmer until warmed through. Note: In reheating the mussels again, they may taste slightly chewier as it can be slightly difficult to prevent them from overcooking.
Typically, one serving is one to one-and-a-half pounds of mussels as a main serving. That being said, I often don't need more than ¾ pound myself!
Absolutely. Farm-raised mussels are often quite clean and may already have been debearded. Don't be surprised if you only have a few (or none) to debeard.
The easiest way to prevent mussels from cooking is to remove any opened mussels in batches. Check your pot every couple of minutes, then transfer any opened mussels to a serving bowl. Allow the remaining mussels to continue steaming until opened.
Mussels usually take somewhere between 5 to 8 minutes, but the last few might take as long as 10 minutes.
Any mussels that don't open after 10 minutes of steaming should be discarded.
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
Mussels in Cream Sauce, Garlic, and Lemon
- 1 lemon
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
- 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- ½ cup clam juice, or seafood stock
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 pounds mussels, cleaned (rinsed and debearded)
- A handful of parsley, finely minced
- ½ french baguette, sliced and toasted in butter, for serving
- Zest the lemon. Juice half the lemon, then cut the other half into wedges for serving; set aside.1 lemon
- Set a medium dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat, and melt butter.3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Once melted, add garlic, lemon zest, and shallots and reduce the heat to medium-low.1 lemon, 5 cloves garlic, 2 shallots
- Saute until garlic and shallots are soft and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes (you’ll want to avoid getting any color on the garlic and shallots here). Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper.Salt and black pepper
- Whisk flour into the pan until no clumps remain, and continue whisking for about 1 to 2 minutes until mixture thickens into a golden paste and there is no raw flour smell.1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- Add in clam juice (or fish stock) and mustard, and bring mixture to a boil, whisking frequently to ensure the paste fully melts into the liquid. Scrape up any bits at the bottom.½ cup clam juice, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- Reduce heat to a simmer, then stir in heavy cream. Season again with salt and pepper.1 cup heavy cream, Salt and black pepper
- Add the cleaned mussels and half of the parsley to the pot, stirring to combine. Cover pot with a lid, and let mussels simmer on medium heat. Steam until fully opened, about 5 minutes. Once opened, transfer the mussels to a serving bowl with a slotted spoon. Continue steaming any remaining mussels until opened, about 2 to 3 minutes. If you still have unopened mussels after 10 minutes of steaming, discard them (they're dead).2 pounds mussels, A handful of parsley
- Taste the broth. It should have subtle lemony aroma, with notes of garlic, and a slightly thickened texture. Season with salt and pepper as needed. If the broth tastes watery, you can simmer it for an additional few minutes to thicken it up.
- Remove the pot from the heat, then stir in a bit of the reserved lemon juice, to taste. Add more if desired. Transfer the broth and remaining mussels to the serving bowl. Garnish with the remaining parsley. Serve immediately, with a side of lemon wedges and the baguette.½ french baguette