Tomato Garlic Mussels

After over a month of Primal Challenge festivities it feels good to get back in the kitchen and cook up some Primal fare for the regular weekend recipe post here at MDA. This and next week’s recipe will wrap up the Reader-Created Cookbook Contest. After that it we’ll be publishing exclusive MDA-created recipes every Saturday. But first, let’s dive straight into the sea…

The great thing about seafood is that it takes so little time to cook. Mussels are at the very top of the list, usually needing only a few minutes to steam open. Mussels conveniently announce exactly when they’re done by opening their shell, they are perfectly self-seasoned, have no bones to contend with and are high in protein, B12, iron and selenium. What is there not to love?

According to both the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch and the Environmental Defense Fund, mussels are farmed using environmentally sound methods and have low levels of contaminants. And what about that old saying, “only eat shellfish in months that have a ‘R’”? Well, luckily, this is October so you don’t have to worry about it either way. But to ease your worry for the rest of the year, mussels harvested in May, June, July or August are only unsafe if pulled from water that is infected with toxic algae, also known as a “red tide”. Red tides are more common in hotter, summertime weather, however, commercial shellfish farming is regulated so that if there happens to be a red tide, no shellfish will be brought to market. If you’re gathering your own shellfish, it does pay to be aware of the water quality in warmer months.

Who gathers their own shellfish, you ask? It just so happens that Lynn Koch does, when she spends her summers on Three Mile Harbor on the South Fork of Long Island in New York. Lynn sent us her recipe for Garlic and Tomato Mussels and made us envious with stories of her summer outings. According to Lynn, the area “has many creeks and when I feel motivated, I kayak into one of them when the tide is still fairly low and take mussels from the creek beds. I pretend I am a hunter-gatherer, and get wonderful exercise, fun and food from the experience.”

What we’re all getting from her experience is a wonderful recipe, simply prepared but overflowing with rich flavor. Garlic and tomatoes simmer briefly with white wine to create a rich broth that is livened up with fresh basil and parsley. The shells bring a briny flavor to the broth and quickly open, revealing plump and juicy mussels ready to be enjoyed. Scoop them into bowls with plenty of thick broth on top and dig in!


  • Two pounds of mussels, well-cleaned (see instructions below)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced or minced
  • 1 hot pepper, sliced (cored and peeled, if desired)
  • Two large, ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Small handful of basil, sliced
  • Large bunch of parsley, chopped


A healthy mussel is one with a shell that stays closed as you rinse them off, but opens wide once it is cooked. If a mussel shell doesn’t open after being boiled for 3-5 minutes, it’s not meant to be eaten. Also not meant to be eaten is the “beard,” or stringy clump of dark thread that sometimes hangs out of the shell. Pull this off when you rinse and rub the shells thoroughly before cooking.

Once mussels are cleaned…

In a large pot melt the butter and add the garlic. Sauté until the garlic starts to become golden and add the pepper. Cook until the pepper is soft.

Add the tomatoes and cook until they have expressed their juices. Add the white wine and simmer rapidly until the sauce is reduced by 1/2.

Add the salt and stir. Add the mussels, cover the pot and check periodically until most all the mussels have opened, 3-5 minutes.

Toss with the basil and parsley.

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29 thoughts on “Tomato Garlic Mussels”

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  1. Mmm, mussels…(slurp). You said it’s November. It’s October. Still ends with “R” though, so we’re good. 🙂

  2. Looks like I am going to head to the seafood market. Have to try this recipe.

  3. I really love mussels, but they end up being deceptively expensive. They tend to be priced at about $7-$8 a pound, but since they have so little meat by weight, I need about 2 pounds just myself to satisfy!

    Would be nice to live near someplace where I could confidently harvest myself, for a number of reasons!

    1. You should come to New Zealand! We just collect them on the coast. Or you can buy them at the supermarket for about 2US$ a pound.

      1. Green lipped NZ mussels,a favourite for my wife and me. Tino reka!

  4. oooo love it I have some mussels right now in the freezer I will have to try out this recipe for myself 🙂

  5. I have not seen any local mussels at the market. The mussels being sold were farm raised in New Zealand.

    And I like mine steamed and then topped off with lemon juice. Yum!

  6. I was out on a little beach/trail adventure a while back and it ended up turning into an impromptu hunter-gatherer mussel gathering cookout (read: free!). Unfortunately, I had to sacrifice some exercise time for some scarfing down free seafood time, but it was well worth it! Now… from how good the recipe here looks, I may be packing a lot more accouterments when I’m anywhere near the beach.

  7. I wonder how well this would work with clams. My BF doesn’t like mussles. Sounds absolutely yummy.

  8. Sounds like a great idea for when I want a more “exquisite” meal… Sadly it’s a bit on the expensive side for me since I need to eat so much :(.

  9. Hi, Mark,

    Thank you so much for choosing my recipe. I love MDA! I am really really delighted and honored!


  10. Gosh, we’ve done this one for yonks… mussels are cheap here (nz), and good. kj

  11. just made this using canned crushed tomatoes and monkfish in place of mussels…. my god. tastiest thing i’ve ever had (other than the shepherd’s pie that I learned to make from this website!).

  12. I just wanted to comment your blog and say that I really enjoyed reading your blog post here. It was very informative and I also digg the way you write! Keep it up and I??ll be back to read more soon mate.

  13. Hi mark! i bought some mussles today and cannot wait to try this recipe ! thanks for sharing!

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  15. The Cordon Bleu recipe modified below works well for me

    Chopped green onions cooked in 1/4 c unsalted butter
    Add wine and heavy whipping cream 1/1, about .5 c each works for 2 lbs
    and a bay leaf or two and bring to a boil, then reduce heat.
    Add mussels, turn up the heat and steam in the solution about 5 mins.

    Serve with new potatoes cut in quarters and fried in Olive oil. Add sea salt and cilantro to potatoes near the finish.