Dish of the Week: Moules Marinières (Sailor's Mussels)

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re taking a look at Moules Marinières.

Also known as Sailor’s Mussels or Mariner’s Mussels, moules à la marinière is a classic dish consisting of mussels steamed with white wine, garlic, parsley, butter and shallots. Cream or crème fraîche can be added to make an even more decadent sauce.

According to French Country Foods, the dish has its roots in 13th century France, when a shipwrecked Irishman who found mussels clinging to the submerged wooden posts became known for farming them. Traditional French flavors were eventually introduced as the dish become popular throughout Europe.

In the winter months along the Flemish coast, when potatoes were among the only abundant foods, they were fried and served alongside the mussels to make a cheap and hearty meal. That classic preparation, known as moules frites, is still popular today.

We find that moules à la marinière is best served with a warm, crusty loaf of bread (that way, you can soak up every last bit of savory juice). This recipe, from Serious Eats, incorporates a dollop of homemade mayonnaise at the end to bring a richness to the beautifully briny sauce. Pair it with a dry, crisp white for the ultimate summer meal (we were sent a Les Dauphins White Cotes du Rhone whose minerality and bright acidity pair wonderfully with seafood).

The Best Moules Marinières (Sailor-Style Mussels)

Ingredients serves 3-4
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 small leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
2 pounds mussels*
2 to 3 tbsp homemade mayonnaise, crème fraîche or heavy cream (optional)
1 tbsp lemon juice, plus 1 tsp grated lemon zest
3 tbsp minced fresh parsley leaves
Additional homemade mayonnaise for serving
1 loaf rustic bread (sourdough, French), thickly sliced, drizzled with olive oil, and broiled until heavily toasted

*Note: Examine mussels before using. If they're gritty or have lots of beards (it'll look like bits of hair coming out from between their shells), scrub them well under cold water and pull out the beards by grabbing them and pulling towards the hinge-end of the mussels. Farm-raised mussels are generally quite clean when they are sold. Discard and cracked mussels or open mussels that don't close when tapped with another mussel.


If using, prepare the two minute homemade mayonnaise.
Note: While its not essential to the dish, it does provide a ton of flavor. Don’t use storebought mayonnaise. If you don’t want to you’re your own, you can leave it out or substitute heavy cream or crème fraîche instead. 

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leeks, shallot, garlic, and bay leave. Season lightly with salt and heavily with black pepper and cook, stirring, until vegetables are very soft but not browned, about 10 minutes.

Increase heat to high and add dry white wine. Bring to a boil and let reduce by half, about 2 minutes. Add mussels, stir, cover, and cook, shaking pan constantly and peeking every 30 seconds to stir. As soon as all the mussels are open, transfer mussels to a bowl using tongs. Place pan lid over bowl to keep mussels warm.

Remove from heat and whisk in remaining butter along with mayonnaise or crème fraîche (if using). Return mussels to pot, add parsley, lemon juice, and lemon zest, stir to combine, then transfer to a warm serving bowl. Serve immediately with additional mayonnaise (if using) and broiled bread.

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Brooke Viggiano is a contributing writer who is always looking to share Houston's coolest and tastiest happenings with the Houston Press readers.
Contact: Brooke Viggiano