Mussels With Saffron Cream Sauce

A while ago I tagged along with David when he went to New Buffalo, Michigan for business. New Buffalo is closed up this time of year but we took some beautiful cold walks on Lake Michigan at sun down. However, the best part of the trip was the bowl of mussels we had. One of the three restaurants that seemed to be open for dinner in the winter happened to be in our hotel. They served us some of the most incredible mussels we’ve had to date. (And my husband orders them a lot.) They were fresh and plump and had a grilled smoky flavor in this incredible bath of saffron cream sauce. This recipe is definitely flavorful, but without that delicious smoky element. One of these days I’ll figure out how to achieve that, but for now this recipe will do. I like mussels, and the delicious simplicity with which they are cooked, but my favorite part is to sop up the amazing leftover broth with slices of grilled baguette. Is there anything better?

Wine pairing suggestion: Riesling, Chenin Blanc, or Chardonnay

serves: dinner for 2, or a first course for 4
adapted from:

2 pounds of cultivated mussels*
1/3 cup flour
1 small onion, sliced
1/8 teaspoon saffron, crushed
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup half & half (or heavy cream for a richer version)
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
French baguette, sliced, brushed with olive oil and grilled

To clean the mussels; in a large bowl whisk together the flour with about 2 quarts of water and add the mussels. Soak them for 20-30 minutes. (This process helps them disgorge any sand.) Drain the mussels, then remove the beard with your fingers, giving it a yank towards the hinge end of the mussels. If they’re dirty, scrub the mussels under running water with a brush. Discard any mussels that aren’t tightly shut.

In a heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, saffron and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened, 5-10 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Stir in the cream, pepper and mussels. Cook covered, until mussels start to open, 6-8 minutes. Transfer the contents of the pot to a large bowl and serve with the grilled baguette.

* A note on mussels. Cultivated mussels are cultured in cool water usually off the coast of PEI, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, or Maine. They are grown in mesh stockings that are suspended from ropes in the water. Since they don’t touch the ocean floor, they have less (if any) grit, are plumper, sweeter, and have a higher meat yield than wild mussels. Wild mussels are grittier, gamier, and less delicate. Buy mussels with tightly closed shells or those that close when tapped- otherwise they’re not alive and fresh. After steaming, any unopened shells should be discarded. Basically, toss any open shells before they are cooked, and any closed shells after they have been cooked.

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