Mr. C. and I love almost any type of critter that spent its happier days (that is to say alive days) basking in either salt or fresh water. And bivalve mollusks, like mussels and clams, when they are steamed in a lovely broth are at the top of our list of most beloved seafood dishes. And this recipe that I developed after having enjoyed a similar mussel appetizer at a Mexican restaurant in the Ballard district of Seattle is one of our favorites. Most of the time I begin my food experiments (actually knock-off recipes) using the ingredients listed on the menu. In this case the only ingredients listed were (if I remember correctly) ancho chili, shallots, wine, and cream. Not a lot to go on, but never-the-less, a starting point. (My biggest problem was where to find ancho chili powder. Even though, at the time, and this was quite a few years ago, we lived in Bellevue, I couldn’t find ancho chili powder anywhere. (For those of you unfamiliar with the great state of Washington, Bellevue is the 2nd largest city; (really just an unpretentious little burg) located east and just across Lake Washington from Seattle.) I finally located ancho chili powder at Market Spice, a fabulous spice store in Seattle’s famous Pike Street Market. Now thank heaven, you can find it at most upscale markets around the area. After finally finding ancho chili powder, I added the other ingredients that had been listed on the menu and a few others that I remembered either seeing or tasting in the broth. After a couple of near misses, I came up with the recipe I am sharing with you today. It is ever so lovely as an appetizer, but also makes a heavenly main dish if you add al dente cooked pasta. Just place the pasta in the bottom of a large, flat bowl. Scoop some of the mussels, or a combination of mussels, clams, prawns, and calamari rings over the pasta and add some of the broth and topping ingredients. Serve with chewy baguette slices and you have a simple one course lunch or dinner fit for a king!

  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 12-15 fresh thyme sprigs tied together with kitchen string
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. or more ancho chili powder
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 1 bottle clam juice
  • ½ c. heavy cream
  • 2-3 lbs. mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 T. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 small tomato, chopped
  • 1 lemon cut into wedges for garnish
  • chewy Italian baguette, sliced

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add shallots and celery and sweat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, sauté for 1 minute. Add the thyme sprigs, bay leaf, ancho chile (start with 1 teaspoon), wine, clam juice, and cream. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered until liquid is reduced to about ½ cup, 30-40 minutes. If you want a stronger ancho taste, add a small amount more at this point. Remove the thyme sprig bundle and bay leaf from the pan. Discard. Turn up the heat, and add mussels; cover and simmer until mussels open, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat. Discard any mussels that have not opened. Taste broth and season with salt and pepper if required. Sprinkle with parsley and chopped tomato and garnish with lemon wedges. Provide each person with a large flat bowl and a tiny or salad fork. Serve mussels right out of pan with baguette slices for dipping.