This is a Sardengna style recipe for the classic Italian dish of “zuppetta di mollusca,” or, mussels in a light stew. This is relatively inexpensive to make and very fast to cook, though I don’t recommend eating bottom-feeders like mussels and clams often. You can also add clams to this dish though I’ve found its difficult to find delicate and tasty clams in the US–they are always quite large and rubbery no matter how you cook them.
For four, medium small portions:
1 large shallot, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed & chopped
chicken stock (your own, about 2-3 cups, or the kind in a box; or vegetable stock)
ciabatta or other non-sourdough bread
1-2 lb mussels, I prefer mediterranean mussels
dried chili flakes
chives or garlic chives
white wine (optional, but good: vermintino or falanghina)
salt & pepper
Clean the mussels. Some mussels come mostly cleaned: there is little debris or gunk on the outside of the shells and the beards have been removed. If this is not the case, pull the beard with your fingers (it ends on the FLAT side of the mussel) and yank it out. Soak the mussels in fresh room temperature or slightly cool water (unless they are green-lipped, and then you should ask your distributor), for about 10-25 minutes so they can expell sand and debris.
If they are pretty gunky on the outside, scrub them with a brush. Make sure they are all alive: if they are closed, they are alive. If the shell is broken, throw it out (unless tightly sealed despite this), if they are open and do not close when you knock them on the counter top, throw them out. If you eat a previously dead mussel, you will likely get sick.
Start by warming olive oil (a few tablespoons) to medium high heat. I like to use a wide, somewhat shallow non-stick pan, but a pan for duck confit or other wide, low sided pan will work. It is good if you have a lid that fits it, or at least one that fits over most of the surface.
Once the oil is hot, add the shallots and garlic, and salt & pepper, reducing the heat to low-medium. If you like it spicy, add the pepper flakes now. Cook until mostly translucent. Add half the chicken broth and a quarter cup to half cup of white wine, turn heat to high. When bubbling (obviously has gotten hotter), add mussels and put lid on or cover as best you can with a lid. Leave it alone for three minutes. Check on the mussels. They are done when the shells open and the mussels have plumped up and pulled mostly away from their shells. If there are still some closed, put the lid back on and wait some more.
When the mussels are cooked, reduce heat to medium and add more chicken stock, as well as the saffron (a heavy pinch, crushed between your fingers). If you didn’t before, add the chili flakes. Drink some Vermentino or Falanghina while you wait. (My favorite falanghina available in the US is “Falanghina dei feudi di san gregorio.” 2005 is the current vintage. My favorite Vermintino is any from Sardegna; Tuscany also produces it but I prefer the Sardengnian).
Let the fluid reduce a little. Add the chopped chives & parsley. The goal is to be able to place two or three slices of toasted, sliced ciabatta in a bowl and pour the mussels & some broth to soak up into the bread. When you think the right amount of broth for however many people you are serving is ready, serve it up.