September 17, 2011

“Keep it simple, stupid.”  That’s something my boss often says.  She’s the kind of woman who tells it like it is.  She wears red cowboy boots on Fridays.  She is sassy and straightforward and has zero tolerance for bullshit.  It’s pretty awesome, working for her.

Like much of the world’s best advice, the idea of keeping things simple is both really obvious (“Like, duh!” as I would have said as an eighth grader, though the kids aren’t really saying that anymore these days) and really hard.  There’s some mechanism in me that seems to want to make things complicated, just for fun.  For difficulty, or drama, or because I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

I’ve been talking about this very thing with a good friend of mine.  She’s currently seeing someone new, a man who is complimentary of her and kind to her, has been nothing but honest and generous, who sent flowers and then had dinner delivered to her house one night, because she wasn’t feeling well.  Quite simply, he likes her, and he isn’t trying to hide it.

This has lead, of course, to lots of excitement on my friend’s part, but also some moments of questioning: what’s wrong with this guy?  Is there something weird about him?  Maybe this is all too good to be true.

See, I think trick ourselves into thinking that things have to be DIFFICULT in order to have any virtue.  That life has to be a struggle, a slog…that there’s always shit hidden away somewhere, waiting to hit the fan.  Don’t get me wrong—sometimes life is hard, and sometimes those uphill battles end up being the most rewarding.  But that doesn’t mean that things can’t also be wonderfully simple and easy and GOOD.  Without us messing them up by trying to complicate them, you know?

Which brings me to mussels.  I had never made mussels before July, and I totally thought they were going to be tricky and persnickety and difficult, but they were so the opposite.  Mussels are dead-simple!  They’re easy!  They’re delicious.

Seriously.  You make a broth, starting with butter and tomatoes and garlic, plus some white wine.  You can throw in some other stuff—sausage or herbs or spicy peppers—or you can just keep it plain and, you know, simple.

While your broth is getting all broth-y, you take the mussels out of the fridge and rinse them really well, pulling the “beards” (a.k.a. tough, fibrous protrusions) off of any that have ‘em, discarding any shells that have already opened.

Once your sauce is simmering, plop! go the mussels into the sauce and on goes the lid.  Toast up some good bread while you wait.  Once it toasts, rub a garlic clove over the surface.  Once you do that, slather on some butter.  You’re done.

Open the lid and check on your mussels, who be all opened up and ready to be slurped.  Throw away any shells that did not open.  Ladle that good stuff into a flat, wide bowl and hand it + plenty of bread to someone you think is swell.  They’ll know you think so, because you just handed them a bowl of mussels (duh).  Simple as that.


If you wanted to make this mussels recipe a bit less decadent (though that would be kind of weird, wouldn’t it?), you could use only olive oil, both for making the broth and for toasting the bread.


2 pounds black mussels
butter & olive oil
lots of very thinly sliced garlic (for me, 10 cloves—for you, maybe only 3-4)
1-2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 large can (15 oz) good-quality tomato puree
1 cup dry white wine
2 T tomato paste
handful of scallions, chopped

optional: fresh basil and/or oregano
serve with: crusty bread, toasted, rubbed with garlic & buttered

Heat 2 T olive oil and 2 T butter in a large saucepot over medium heat.  Add the garlic, half the scallions, and a pinch of salt, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes, until the garlic begins to color.  Add the tomato puree, wine, and red pepper flakes and turn the heat up to bring the mixture to a boil.

Reduce to medium, add the mussels, and cover with a lid.  Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the mussels open.  (Discard any mussels that don’t.)  Remove the lid and add the remaining scallions, plus any fresh herbs if using.  I also like to toss in a few extra tablespoons of butter, to thicken the sauce.

Ladle the mussels, plus plenty of broth, into bowls, and serve with toast.  Yields 4 large portions or 6 smaller ones.


  1. This recipe (and Jill’s beautiful photography) makes me want to make mussels, like, now.

    Comment by Marynelle — September 17, 2011 @ 11:17 am

  2. These look fantastic! I love your exposition as well. I’m always nervous to try mussels (what if they are not fresh? what if they don’t open? what if I over/undercook them?) but they sound great! I’ll have to give them a go now.

    Comment by Tanvi @ The Hathi Cooks — September 18, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

  3. so if not “like, duh,” then what?

    Comment by Lee — September 19, 2011 @ 7:37 am

  4. I don’t have time for complicated as well, love the dish, easy but delish, light in calories, I love every bit of it.

    Comment by Madison Chloe — September 19, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

Leave a comment