(actual mussels prepared by “team mussel” at our cooking party last weekend-thanks Chris, Kim, Mary, and Bob)
When the weather begins to cool down I always start thinking about fall and winter entertaining. I love having people over for appetizers and drinks and am always on the hunt for recipes I can make in advance. These mussels are one of my favorites. Adapted from a recipe by one of my favorite chef’s, Tom Douglas, they are creamy, smoky, and crunchy, not to mention easy. The actual mussel becomes fairly mild which makes these nice for those mussel-shy friends you might have. Clams work beautifully too.
The best thing about this recipe is the make-ahead part. You can assemble these completely and have them in the fridge overnight. Take them about about 30 minutes before you’re ready to heat them, and after a 5 minute trip to your oven they are ready to eat. I love serving them on a platter covered in rock salt. Not only does it keep the shells from teetering all over the place, it looks damn good too.
Creamy Mussels on the Half Shell
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
½ lemon, thickly sliced
10 thyme sprigs, plus ½ teaspoon minced thyme leaves
5 whole peppercorns
1½ pounds medium mussels (about 60) scrubbed and debearded as needed
3 thick slices bacon, cut into ¼-inch pieces, or “lardons”
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium leek finely chopped, white and light green parts only
3 tablespoons creme fraiche
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2/3 cup Panko (or coarse, dry) breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley
In a large saucepan, combine the wine with shallot, lemon slices, thyme sprigs, and peppercorns and bring to a boil. Add the mussels, cover, and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the mussels are open, about 5 minutes; remove the pan from the heat. Discard any mussels that have no opened. Pull the remaining mussels out of their shells and discard half of each shell. Arrange remaining shells on a baking sheet in a single layer and place a mussel in each one. Strain the broth into a glass measuring cup, leaving any grit behind.
In a medium sauté pan cook the bacon over medium heat, stirring until browned and crisp, 5-7 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined dish and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan. Add 3 tablespoons of the butter to the pan and melt it over medium heat. Add the leek with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add ½ cup of the mussel cooking broth and cook until reduced and syrupy, about 15 minutes. Whisk in the creme fraiche and simmer for a few minutes, until slightly thickened. Stir in the bacon and minced thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool then top each mussel with about 1 tablespoon of the mixture. If not serving right away, mussels can be tightly covered and refrigerated up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small skillet. Add the Panko and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Sprinkle the crumbs over the mussels and bake in the upper third of the oven until hot and bubbling, about 5 minutes. If the tops of the mussels are not browned, turn the oven to broil and, watching carefully, broil until golden, about 1 minute. Transfer the mussels to a platter lined with rock salt and serve immediately.
If you’re searching for a Thanksgiving appetizer you can make ahead, give these a try.