This easy yet elevated mussels marinara recipe features tender, briny mussels in a brothy marinara sauce topped with herby breadcrumbs. The meal comes together in about 35 minutes, making it a tasty choice for a weeknight or last-minute dinner party. Make sure to serve with some crusty bread to sop up all the juices!
I am SO excited to share this recipe with you all! Growing up in New England, my family had access to some incredible fresh mussels over the years, and one of our favorite ways to prepare it was in a tomato and white wine sauce.
So when I came across mussels marinara while doing some research online, I *knew* I had to develop my own version. This is one of my favorite easy Italian recipes and so impressive, too.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
This meal yields 2 large servings or 4 appetizer-like servings.
- It's easy. You'll prepare a simple marinara sauce, then steam the mussels in the broth. If you've never cooked with mussels, this is a great first recipe to try them out! I promise it's much easier than you think!
- It's delicious. I like my marinara extra garlicky with a bit of heat for even more flavor. A topping of herby breadcrumbs adds so much texture!
A Quick History
While researching this recipe, I found some interesting facts on "marinara" sauce. The blog Recipes from Italy states, "'alla marinara' means 'in the way and style of sailors (marinai)'". According to them, the dish traditionally does *not* include any tomato sauce, just garlic and white wine.
Nevertheless, Italian American marinara dishes in the United States typically incorporate tomatoes, suggesting a potential evolution of the dish following the immigration of Italians to the US. In any case, the version I am currently working with prominently highlights the use of tomatoes!
- Mussels: You can purchase mussels at your local fish market or the seafood section of your grocery store. Fresh mussels should smell briny but not fishy. Opt for farm-raised varieties, which are much cleaner and more sustainable.
- Red Pepper Flakes: I like adding a pinch of red pepper flakes to the sauce for a bit of heat, kind of like fra diavolo!
- Garlic: I call for six, yes, six garlic cloves in the marinara. I personally *love* pairing seafood with garlicky sauces, but you can reduce the amount if you're more sensitive to the flavor.
- Wine: Look for light-bodied, dry white wine like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.
- Herbs: I call for parsley, but fresh basil would be delicious here too.
For a full list of ingredients and quantities, refer to the recipe card.
How to Make Mussels Marinara
Step 1 - Clean and debeard the mussels: Rinse the mussels under cold water, and scrub off any dirt or debris from the shell with your fingers or a brush. Remove the beard (the fibrous, stringy bit attached to the side of the mussel shell) by tugging and pulling it with firm force.
If you see any open shells, gently tap them and check on them in a minute or so. If they're still open, they're dead, and you'll want to discard them.
Note: Some bags of mussels will already have the beards removed!
Step 2 - Saute the aromatics: In a large pot or skillet, add olive oil, red pepper flakes, oregano, and garlic. Set over medium heat. Once sizzling, add the onions, and saute until softened and translucent.
Step 3 - Simmer: Deglaze the pan with wine, and simmer until the alcohol smell dissipates and the liquid has reduced. Add the tomatoes and parsley, and simmer for 5 - 10 minutes until slightly thickened. Stir in the mussels, cover the pot, and steam until opened, about 5 minutes.
Step 4: Discard any unopened mussels, and season the marinara with salt.
Step 5 - Make the breadcrumbs: Heat oil in a small skillet, and saute the breadcrumbs until golden brown. Off the heat, stir in the red pepper flakes, parsley, and a pinch of salt.
Step 6 - Serve: Divide amongst serving bowls, top with bread crumbs, and enjoy!
The best way to prevent mussels from overcooking is to remove them right as they open. I like to start checking around the 3 - 4 minute mark, then transfer any opened mussels to a separate bowl.
Storage and Make-Ahead Instructions
This dish will last up to 2 days in the fridge, stored in an airtight container. I don't recommend making the whole dish beforehand, but you can prepare the marinara sauce up to 3 days prior, then steam the mussels and prepare the breadcrumbs at the last minute.
After purchasing, remove the mussels from any plastic bag and store them in a large bowl (you can also store them in a mesh bag in a bowl). Cover them with a damp paper towel or kitchen towel and store in the fridge. Use within 2 days for best quality.
To determine if mussels are still alive before cooking, check if their shells are slightly open. If you tap on an open mussel and it doesn't close within a minute, it is likely dead.
After steaming, live mussels should open up during the cooking process. If any remain closed after steaming, discard them as they may be dead and unsafe to eat.
Absolutely! Linguine or spaghetti would be great here. I'd recommend cooking about 6 - 8 ounces of pasta.
I love pairing these mussels with a dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, finely minced*
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 (26-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, such as Pomi | or crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
- 2 pounds mussels
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
For Serving (optional):
- Crusty bread
- Saute the aromatics: To a large dutch oven, add 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 6 cloves garlic, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon dried oregano. Set over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the garlic and spices begin to sizzle, about 1 - 2 minutes.Add diced onion and saute until softened and translucent, about 7 - 8 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt.
- Clean the mussels: While the onions saute, prep the mussels. Transfer 2 pounds mussels to a colander and rinse them under cold water, scrubbing off any sand, debris, or stuck-on bits with your fingers or a brush. Finally, debeard the mussels by pulling off any hair-like fibers attached to the side of the shell. 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 them.Note: As you're rinsing the mussels, you'll notice most of them are likely closed, but a few may be slightly open. To check if they're alive, gently tap any open mussels; if alive, they will close after a minute or so. If they remain open, they're dead and you can toss them. Additionally, make sure to discard any mussels with broken, chipped, or cracked shells.
- Deglaze and simmer: Add ½ cup dry white wine, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer until the alcohol smell dissipates and the liquid has reduced by half, about 3 - 4 minutes. Stir in 1 (26-ounce) can chopped tomatoes and 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, and simmer for 5 - 7 minutes.
- Cook the mussels: Add in the mussels, cover the pot, and steam over medium heat 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 - 3 minutes. If you still have unopened mussels after 10 minutes of steaming, discard them (they're dead).
- Season: Return the mussels back to the pot, and taste and season the broth as desired with additional salt or chili flakes.
- Just before serving, prepare the herb breadcrumbs: In a small skillet, set 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Stir in ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs, and saute for 3 - 5 minutes until nicely golden brown. Remove from the heat, and stir in the 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt.
- Divide mussels amongst serving bowls and top with the herb breadcrumbs. Serve immediately, and enjoy with crusty bread if desired