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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