The best thing about a meal of steamed mussels is the sauce left at the bottom of the bowl. Yes, I adore the bivalves themselves — those sweet, saline nuggets plucked out of their blue-black shells. (Pro-tip: use an empty pair of shells like tongs to pluck out the meat.) But it’s their sauce — suffused with garlic, wine, and parsley — that makes me swoon, whether sipped from a spoon or sopped up with bread or crispy, golden frites if you’re very lucky.
In this speedy mussels recipe, I offer yet another way to savor that sauce: steeped into velvety white beans.
Making it is dead simple. First the beans (canned, or if you plan ahead, cooked from scratch) are briefly braised with olive oil, garlic and chile flakes. At this point, they are tender and thoroughly delicious, and would make a fine, quick meal on their own. But adding a couple of pounds of mussels to the pot makes them even tastier.
As the mussels steam, they release their briny liquid, which the beans soak up, growing even plumper and more complex. Some grated lemon zest and herbs are thrown in at the end, adding freshness and verve. It’s as substantial as a seafood stew, but far less involved than, say, cioppino or bouillabaisse.
It’s thrifty, too, since mussels are some of the least expensive seafood you can buy. Right now, I can get a two-pound bag at my local market for around $9. And farmed mussels are sustainable, consistently rated as one of the best choice seafoods to eat, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.
Even better, especially for a weeknight, the whole thing comes together faster than the time it takes for the average distracted teenager to set the table. (Mussels: 20 minutes; teenager: huh?). Farmed mussels don’t need much by way of cleaning since they come without the hairy clumps on wild mussels known as beards. Just give them a rinse, discarding any open specimens or those with broken shells, and you are good to go.
I do use a lot of oil for braising the beans. For this otherwise very lean recipe, I think it lends the necessary richness. That said, you can use less oil, but the beans won’t be nearly as silky.