Mussels in saffron broth

(Beatrice Peltre for The Boston Globe)
September 30, 2009

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Serves 4

A steaming serving of aromatic mussels is the sort of dish you can make at the last minute and have a splendid meal. Select mussels that are still closed, or that close when you tap lightly on them, and discard the others. Pull off the beards. In this dish, the mollusks are steamed in white wine - like the classic French moules marinieres - with a few vegetables and fresh herbs. The result is a broth full of flavor that pairs wonderfully with an earthy spice like saffron, finely diced orange bell pepper for color, and to round the taste, a generous dollop of creme fraiche. Serve the mussels in the broth in shallow bowls and add thinly cut oven-baked fries (my favorites are carrots or parsnips) and a crusty loaf. You’ll be happy to have it to sop up the delicious broth. Simple but so good.

4 1/2 pounds fresh mussels
2 tablespoons butter
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 small orange bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
Pinch saffron threads
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup creme fraiche
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1. Discard any mussels that are chipped. If some mussels are open, tap lightly on their shells; if they stay open, discard them. Clean the mussels under a cold tap, removing the beard on each one; set aside.

2. In a stock pot, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add half the onion with the celery, carrot, and thyme. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Pour in 1/2 cup of the wine, with the bay leaf and mussels.

3. Cover and cook over high heat for 3 minutes or until all the mussels are opened. Discard any that do not open; set aside off the heat.

4. Meanwhile, in a flameproof casserole large enough to hold all the mussels, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the remaining onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes or until softened. Add the remaining 1/2 cup wine, saffron, salt, and black pepper. Let the mixture bubble steadily for a few minutes. Add the creme fraiche and parsley.

5. Using a large slotted spoon, remove the mussels from the stock pot. Strain the broth into the saffron mixture. Bring to a boil. Add the mussels to the pan. Spoon the liquid over them. Divide the mussels and broth among shallow bowls. Beatrice Peltre