Ok, so ever since our trip to Traverse City a few summers ago, I’ve been craving the mussels from North Peak Brewery. The North Peak’s mussels were so good we asked for three helpings of bread just to sop up the amazingly flavorful broth at the bottom of the bowl. At our third request for more bread, the waitress laughed and told us we were not alone; she often had patrons ask for the broth in a to-go container, even after all the mussels had been consumed! Let me state the mussels recipe here is not a recreation of the North Peak’s mussels recipe. However, the recipe I found in last month’s issue of Cook’s Illustrated gives a good jumping off point for trying to figure out North Peak’s concoction. I love Cook’s Illustrated; they do all the kitchen mathwork to help figure out what the best methods are for home cooks to produce perfect dishes. In this particular recipe, CI says to use a roasting pan (or your biggest oven safe sauté pan) to be able to lay the mussels flatly to allow for even cooking. Also, CI suggests you place them in the oven, not on the stovetop. This is so the heat uniformly surrounds the pot, rather than just coming up from the bottom of the stove burner. Brilliant! This recipe was SOOOOO easy and cooks so quickly you truly have to have all your stuff ready ahead of cooking time so you can eat immediately, because let’s face it, no one likes cold mussels.
First things first. I am a mussel virgin. Not in the sense of eating them, but definitely in the sense of buying and cooking them. WF sells mussels by the 2 lb bag, which was perfect for me and The Hubs, because CI figures you should serve 1 lb per person. The mussels are ALIVE, and some of them will be open. CI states if you tap your finger on the open mussels, they should close. I tried this and the open ones did not close. Maybe I didn’t tap hard enough? Knock knock, hello, Mussels??? Maybe they were stubborn mussels, anyway that part is not so important. What is important is that you smell the mussels before you buy them. They should not smell bad, they should smell briny, like the ocean. I gave mine a good sniff, checked the display date (which should be listed, if not, ask the fishmonger), and deemed them acceptable. Ask the fishmonger to put them in a plastic bag filled with ice so you are assured they will stay alive on the car ride home. The monger told me the mussels had already been de-bearded, and all they needed was a quick rinse in the tap water. Do not over rinse them, as tap water will kill these saltwater bivalves.
Make sure you buy your mussels the day you are using them, although CI states they will stay alive in the fridge with a wet paper towel placed over them for up to 3 days…
Heat your oven to 500F. In a large roasting pan or your largest oven-safe sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir constantly, until the garlic smells fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the wine, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves and cook for about a minute, or until the wine reduces just a little bit.
I used côtes-du-rhône, a white wine that is dry, crisp and light.
Add the mussels and salt and cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.
Cook at 500F for 15-18 minutes, (mine took 16 minutes), or until most of the mussels have opened. Remove the pan from the oven and BE CAREFUL to use your oven mitts and remember your pan was in a 500 degree oven. Push the mussels to the side of the pan and add the butter, using a whisk to incorporate it. Remove the thyme and bay leaves and garnish mussels with parsley. Serve immediately with crusty warmed French bread, making sure to ladle the broth over all the mussels so you have some good dipping broth for the bread.
With this method, the mussels were plump and cooked to perfection. I do not believe I had any that didn’t open, which is pretty awesome. The addictive broth tastes briny, buttery, and slightly spicy, with just a woody hint of thyme. The next go-around I am going to use beer instead of wine and perhaps whisk sriracha and lime into the beer-butter broth at the end, like North Peak does. I don’t think you can really screw it up too badly with any of those added ingredients! The Hubs gives this recipe 2 thumbs way up, but requested “MORE HEAT”, so I upped the red pepper flake quotient. Be sure to downplay your red pepper flakes if you are not a fan of spicy heat.
Lastly, be sure to place a outer shell discarding bowl on the table!
Cook time: 15-18 minutes
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, zested (or minced)
- 1 teaspoon to 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 1 cup dry white wine (like côtes-du-rhône)
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 2 lbs mussels, debearded by the store, rinsed at home in tap water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
- handful of minced parsley, for garnish
1. Put your rack on the lowest rung of your oven and preheat to 500F. Heat olive oil over medium heat and add zested garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
2. Add wine, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves to pan and let reduce for one minute.
3. Add mussels and salt. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil and place on lowest possible rack in your oven. Bake at 500 degrees for 15-18 minutes, or until most of the mussels have opened.
4. Remove pan from oven and push mussels to one side of the pan. Whisk in butter until melted into sauce. Serve mussels in bowls, ladling broth overtop of mussels. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley. Enjoy!