With a pleasantly briny flavour, mussels pair well with clean, simple flavours, such as fresh herbs with melted butter and lightly cooked onions or leeks, or a sauce made from white wine, heavy cream and garlic. But they also can stand up to more robust partners, such as basil pesto or spicy tomato sauces.
However you dress your mussels, they are a breeze to prepare. Start by washing them under cold water. Next, pull out the "beards," the fibrous strips that stick out from the shells. Meanwhile, in a large pot combine 1/4 inch or so of white wine with a generous few tablespoons of melted butter. Bring to a simmer, then add the mussels, cover and cook, shaking the pan frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the mussels have opened.
Be sure to check on the mussels during cooking. As they open, use a slotted spoon to remove them and set aside while the remaining mussels cook. This prevents those that open first from overcooking. Don't feel like get fancy with a sauce? The juices left in the pan make a delicious one. Add some fresh herbs and a splash of lemon juice, then pour it over the mussels in serving bowls.
But since this is Valentine's Day, maybe you do want to get more creative. So we've come up with a delicious — but still simple — variation on this basic recipe.
MUSSELS IN DIJON-ORANGE SAUCE WITH ARUGULA
Start to finish: 30 minutes
2 pounds mussels
1 cup white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped shallot
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 cups packed baby arugula or watercress
1 red chili, thinly sliced (optional)
Crusty bread, to serve
Scrub the mussels with a coarse brush and remove the beards. Rinse thoroughly.
In a large pot over medium heat, combine the wine, garlic, shallots, orange zest and juice, mustard and black pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the shallot is tender and the wine is fragrant. Add the mussels and cover, cooking over medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the mussels open up. Remove the mussels as they open, discarding any that don't.
Stir in the butter until melted, then divide between 2 serving bowls. Top with chives, parsley, arugula and chili slices, if using. Serve hot with hunks of crusty bread.
Nutrition information per serving: 400 calories; 180 calories from fat (45 per cent of total calories); 20 g fat (11 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 80 mg cholesterol; 19 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 16 g protein; 520 mg sodium.