This is a recipe I’ve been wanting to share for over a year now. It’s also represents a great culinary lesson — asking the “how would you fix it?” question has been very rewarding whenever I find myself at the fish counter. That’s what happened one day as I was eyeing a pile of shiny, black mussels on ice. I love mussels. LOVE THEM. I was planning to make the standard version with white wine, garlic and herbs. Always good, but not exactly new.
But the “fish guy” (sorry, can’t use “fish monger” as it sort of gives you this picture of a 70 year old man who has been doing this from a seaside shack for decades) seemed to be as enthusiastic as I was when I asked for them, so I thought I’d see what he recommended for the preparation. His name is Billy Guman, and you can still find him there at the Whole Foods fish counter, still as knowledgeable about good fish, and now with some cool redheaded dreads.He asked “do you like beer?” Easy answer. And he proceeded to tell me how he likes to fix mussels with stout (Guinness), and I was intrigued. But I blew off the Guinness part of the recipe and chose a nice Colorado crafted stout thinking it would be even more interesting. Wrong turn. The mussels were bitter. It was a good brew that we used, but mussels are naturally a bit sweet (like all good shellfish), and so the beer really overpowered that. Another lesson learned — LISTEN to the advice given, and FOLLOW it. Now you’re getting a taste for how I operate (and fail).
Take two. We tried again with Murphy’s stout. So now, we’re still not exactly following instructions (I can’t even remember why that is), but we’ve got a similar beer with allegiance to Scotland and not Ireland. Once we got the beer mostly right, the flavor of the mussels came through beautifully, and for some reason the preparation was so perfect for cool weather. So perfect in fact, that we made this for an hors d’oeuvre on Christmas Eve this past year. It became a feast, complete with crusty loaves of bread we tore apart for sopping up all the good juices. I have made this several times since then, and it never disappoints. My only adjustment to Billy’s recipe was to throw in some chopped Italian parsley before serving for a fresh note, and because I love color. All thanks to Billy, for a fabulous take on mussels.
Stout Braised Mussels
recipe by Billy Guman
Note: Serves 4 adults, but recipe can be doubled for a crowd as an appetizer.
- 3 lb. mussels, scrubbed/rinsed, beards removed (but most farmed mussels don’t seem to have these)
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 heaping cups chopped shallots
- 1 cup butter
- 1 dry pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 2 pints Guinness or Murphy’s Stout
- 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
- In a large pot, melt the butter over medium flame. Add the shallots and sauté for about 5 minutes, until softened and translucent.
- Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Pour in the beer and bring to a boil over medium high heat for around 5 minutes to cook out some of the alcohol.
- Add the mussels and the tomato halves, give them a good stir to incorporate and then steam, covered, on high heat for 5-7 minutes. (At high altitude of 7,200 ft., 7 minutes was perfect.) Mussels are done when they open up.
- Pour mussels and all the good juices into a large serving bowl, sprinkle with the parsley and serve with some crusty bread for dipping. Note: if mussels are new to you, discard any unopened mussels (yucky ones that died before being cooked), and just enjoy the mussels that are fully opened.