Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our new feature, "8 & $20." We hope it adds some pleasure to your table.
The secret to making mussels is to make a great-tasting sauce. There’s a reason why moules marinières has stuck around as a bistro standard: white wine and loads of butter could make almost anything taste good.
Consider the recipe below a stripped-down weeknight version of bouillabaisse, the classic Provençal fish stew. A base of tomatoes, saffron and garlic can be transformative on a dark winter night, warming yet light and fresh-tasting all at once. Take the time to slice the fennel as thinly as possible; you want the slices to melt into the background, something to be swooped up with the sauce on a toasted crouton.
We tried this dish with numerous whites from Italy and France, but the winner was—perhaps fittingly—a rosé from Provence. The dish is a jumble of strong flavors: sweet and briny mussels, earthy saffron and acidity from the tomatoes. The Domaine de Beaupré 2009 we opened was bright, fruity and crisp; a joyful match that didn’t overpower or fade into the background.
Pair with: A rosé from Provence such as Domaine de Beaupré Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence Rosé 2009 (85 points, $16)
Total Time: 25 minutes
Approximate Food Cost: $22
• 1 shallot, diced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 quart (or 28 ounces) canned tomatoes
• 1 generous pinch of saffron
• 1 cup wine (whatever you’re drinking will work best)
• 1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
• 4 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
• 1 baguette, sliced into oblong croutons
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Brush the slices of baguette on both sides with olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and place in the oven for around 7 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan. Sauté the shallots on medium-high heat until they soften, around 3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for an additional minute. Raise the heat to high and add the tomatoes, wine and saffron. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat so that the mixture simmers. Cook until the tomatoes have broken down into a sauce, around 10 minutes.
3. Turn the heat to high and add the fennel and the mussels. Cover and let steam until most of the mussels have opened, around 5 minutes, shaking the covered pan occasionally to stir the mussels. Take off the heat and discard any mussels that haven’t opened. Divide the mussels between four bowls. Check the sauce for seasoning then pour evenly over the bowls. Serve immediately with the croutons. Serves 4.
Note: To cook 4 pounds of mussels, you'll need a very large pot. If you don't have one, you can split the mussels and sauce into two pans with lids.
Also, do be diligent about checking mussels for signs of life before you cook them. Cook only the ones that are closed, or those that will close after a forceful tapping against the counter.