Mussels In Almond Butter

I’ve never quite understood why they sell mussels preserved in jars. Of all seafood, this is the easiest of all to cook, and possibly the one with the most options to play with.

Mussels are the seafood for those of us who are still looking keenly at our weekly bank statements. A kilo of mussels will set you back about a fiver, but there’s enough there to serve a growing family, with leftovers for the dishlicker. Not that mussels are as cheap as they used to be, but there’s a value added to mussels that doesn’t necessarily come from crays and oysters and tuna and salmon. They’re fun to cook, and are absolutely impossible to muck up.

Mussels are that rarity in seafood: you can actually cook them twice should you so desire, perhaps even three times, and still they retain that delicious flavour, texture, and succulence. In fact most dishes with mussels require a second cooking, or at least a heating through. One of the great French peasant dishes requires you to steam mussels, allow them to cool, shell them, replace them in their shell, and top them with a mixture of butter, basil and chopped almonds. They are then baked, until the butter sizzles. I could eat a thousand. Take that concept, throw it all through home-made pasta, add chopped raw garlic, and you could eat four pots full.

1 kg mussels, shells well scrubbed of mud and slime


small bunch of basil, chopped roughly

¼ cup chopped almonds

½ chilli, chopped finely (optional)

a little lemon juice


Into a large pot, toss the mussels, cover, and cook on a low heat for a couple of minutes. The mussels will give their own moisture to the pot, but take a look after a couple of minutes. There should be plenty of steam, and most of the mussels should have opened. Leave for a few more minutes before removing from the heat. Retain the liquid tossed out by the mussels.


Allow to cool, and remove the mussels from their shells, tossing away any dead crabs, and the ‘rope’ the mussels use to adhere to their old homeland. Discard any that have not opened.


Knead butter, basil, almonds, chilli, lemon juice and a little of the mussel juice (sand removed) if you like, and put in the fridge for a few minutes.


Choose a dozen or so shells, and clean them under hot water. Heat the oven to 200°C.


Put a couple of mussels in each shell, and cover with the butter mixture.


Lay the mussels on a baking dish that can go to table. Bake until the butter is melted, but has not started to sizzle on the bottom of the tray. This takes about 5-8 minutes.


Serve the mussels with plenty of bread, allowing each and all to grab as much as they like. It’s a criminal act not to wipe up the butter.

Sandy Bottoms

When you’re cooking mussels, the juice they leave behind, often called mussel ‘milk’ because of its pale white colour, is well worth saving. The only problem is that it is often quite sandy, as mussels tend to collect a bit as they take in, and give out, the swirling waters as they seek a decent feed. The way to beat it is to drain the milk and leave in a white-bottomed bowl to let the sand sink to the bottom. Then spoon off the clean top, leaving all the sand behind. Any gold you find is a bonus.

And make sure you get your mussels from your favourite fishmonger. I have heard of such monstrous assaults on humanity as the sale of frozen mussels as fresh, the consequence being that when you cook them none of them open, because, by definition, they’re all long passed away.

WINE: I always think of mussels as a hearty dish – so they need a hearty drink to go with them. Try a big, rich chardonnay from the Hunter, Barossa or McLaren Vale.