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Steamed Mussels with Butter – Recipe Redux

Steamed Mussels with Butter – Recipe Redux

Dragonfly in Amber

I sat on a chest against the taffrail, enjoying the salty breeze and the tarry, fishy smells of ships and harbor.  It was still cold, but with my cloak pulled tight around me, I was warm enough.  The ship rocked slowly, rising on the incoming tide; I could see the beards of algae on nearby dock pilings lifting and swirling, obscuring the shiny black patches of mussels between them.

The thought of mussels reminded me of the steamed mussels with butter I had had for dinner the night before, and I was suddenly starving.  The absurd contrasts of pregnancy seemed to keep me always conscious of my digestion; if I wasn’t vomiting, I was ravenously hungry.  The thought of food led me to the thought of menus, which led back to a contemplation of the entertaining Jared had mentioned.  Dinner parties, hm?  It seemed as odd way to begin the job of saving Scotland, but then I couldn’t really think of anything better.

Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber (Chapter 6 – Making Waves)

<Blog post and recipe originally published March 13, 2012. Republished today with a revised recipe for Steamed Mussels with Butter that will appear in Outlander Kitchen: The Official Outlander Companion Cookbook, available June 14, 2016>

steamed mussels with butter Valentine's Day Round UpI worked under 3 French chefs during my time in professional kitchens.  This recipe belongs to the first.

Chef P. was my culinary skills instructor.   The crusty son of a Parisian bakery owner who went on to cook in some of Europe’s greatest restaurants, he was never short of a story — once the work was done and every last pot lid was put away — he would often regale us with a tale from the kitchens of old.  My favourites were from his childhood, in his father’s bakeries, where he learned from master bakers who started everyday outside the back door, cigarettes in hand, feeling the early morning air before returning inside to mix the day’s doughs according to their temperature and humidity readings.

Those early lessons influenced Chef P. — he was all about using your instincts in the kitchen.  Ask him how long to cook something, and he would invariably shake his head in exasperation, growl “Until it’s done!” then peer quizzically at you, as though the knives in your proverbial drawer were a little dull, before turning to answer the next “silly” question.

(I did say he was crusty.)

steamed mussels with butterThe secret to Chef P’s mussels with butter is what he put in his butter.

Compound butter, or beurre composé, is a mixture of softened butter and flavourings used in sauces, or atop vegetables, meats and seafood.

This is a slightly simplified version of Chef P’s original mussel butter, which we made in 10lb batches with a few extra ingredients that aren’t common in the average home-kitchen pantry.  My version is a little easier to put together and still packed with flavour.

Besides, I couldn’t, in good conscience, give away another chef’s secrets.  At least not all of them.

steamed mussels with butter(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)

Steamed Mussels with Butter

Packed in-shell with a colourful and decadent compound butter, serve these meaty morsels from the sea with a loaf of crusty bread and a sharply dressed green salad to balance the butter’s richness.

The leftover compound butter is delicious on toast under a poached egg, stirred into mashed potatoes, or perched atop over a grilled steak.

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer


  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 small shallot, diced
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 to 4 pounds (1½ to 2 kilograms) mussels
  • 1 cup white wine


Combine the butter, shallot, garlic, tomato paste, lemon juice, parsley, basil, salt, pepper and cayenne in a food processor and pulse until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl often.  Alternatively, combine everything in a large bowl and mash with a fork until combined.

Inspect the mussels to ensure they are all closed.  Discard any with broken shells, or those open ones that don’t close immediately when tapped. Use a small, stiff brush to remove barnacles and/or seaweed.

Arrange half of the mussels in a single layer in a large skillet, add half of the wine, cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Steam until all of the mussels are open, about 3 minutes.  Remove the mussels from the pan and repeat with remaining mussels and wine.

When cool enough to handle, discard the empty half shells and use a knife to loosen the meat from the other halves.  Trim the meat of any thread-like “beards” that you find.

Use a small spoon or knife to cover the meat and fill the shell with the compound butter.  Arrange on a baking sheet, wrap with plastic and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

Move the rack to the top position and preheat the oven broiler or grill.

Cook the mussels until the butter is melted and bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately with lots of fresh crusty bread to soak up all that coral-coloured, flavour-filled butter.


  • Compound butters are full of big flavours, and, when combined with the mussels, things could get overly salty very quickly, so this recipe is one of the few unsalted butter.
  • When you purchase mussels, choose damp, shiny, fresh-smelling specimens with securely closed shells.  (Mussels left undisturbed will open their shells slightly. Tap open shells firmly.  If the shell closes, it is still alive. Discard those that don’t close.) Avoid mussels with broken or split shells, or those that smell fishy. Store them in the refrigerator layered in damp newspaper or cloth.  Avoid plastic containers or bags which will suffocate them. Wait to clean until just before cooking.



  1. JustHeather
    May 14, 2012 at 2:01 am

    YUM!!! My dad was just telling me yesterday how he was going to go get some mussles from the beach himself. How I miss catching my own seafood. Thanks for making my mouth water and bringing back memories.

    • Theresa
      May 16, 2012 at 7:40 am

      Hopefully you`ll make it to the beach with your dad soon, JustHeather! Theresa

  2. The Mom Chef
    May 14, 2012 at 6:45 am

    The French do have very eloquent ways of letting you know that your questions are absurd, don’t they. 🙂 I love my oysters raw but my clams and mussels cooked. This recipe looks fantastic. I’d love to see the chef’s secret copy (it’s just a wish, not badgering or begging) because, well, just because, but this looks amazing too.

    • Theresa
      May 16, 2012 at 7:38 am

      I`ll drop Chef P a line and see what he says, Christiane…

  3. Kiri W.
    May 14, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Ooooh, this looks to die for! What a glorious little appetizer. 🙂

    • Theresa
      May 16, 2012 at 7:39 am

      They are the perfect finger food, Kiri, you`re so right! Theresa

  4. Paschendale
    May 14, 2012 at 11:05 am

    This looks amazing and, I imagine, tastes even better. I miss being able to get fresh mussels and other seafood. I have cooked a similar dish to this, using fresh oysters in the shell. After washing them, grill them over indirect heat until they pop open, then melt a dollop of butter in each shell and add lemon juice, salt, pepper and minced parsley to taste. Wonderful, and just stand around the grill to eat.

    • Theresa
      May 14, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      Your oysters sound delicious!

  5. Lesley
    May 14, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Hi Theresa,
    You know I love your blog and your recipies but not even you can persuade me to try mussels :-).
    I’m going to make the butter though and top some thick fish fillets with it before baking .

    • Theresa
      May 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      I’m sad I can’t persuade you, Lesley! But this butter will be fantastic on fish! I would top the cooked fish with a spoonful of soft butter just before serving.

  6. Trix
    May 14, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Haha, I love your crusty chef. This dish sounds absolutely ah-ma-zing, I love it. I haven’t made mussels at home (how dumb is that?) but this is very inspiring.

    • Theresa
      May 16, 2012 at 7:38 am

      These are right up your alley, Trix…I`d love to see your twist on them!

  7. dearli13
    May 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Looks delicious, as usual!!! your recipes always make me feel brave…i think i’ll be trying these! can’t wait to share the cookbook with my friends and family! hope to find it a bookstore soon!!!! 🙂

    • Theresa
      May 16, 2012 at 7:37 am

      You can make anything in the kitchen you set your mind to! Including an Outlander Cookbook…

  8. Thoracias
    September 23, 2014 at 6:22 am

    Since I don’t live anywhere near the ocean (or a decent fresh seafood market), I was wondering if I might use frozen mussels for this?

    • Theresa
      September 23, 2014 at 7:15 am

      Yes! They should be quite tasty!

  9. Carolyn
    March 21, 2016 at 11:01 am

    Can’t wait to try this…I LOVE seafood but rarely does the budget allow for it. Makes it all the tastier!

    • Theresa
      March 21, 2016 at 11:10 am

      Enjoy! Mussels are one of the more affordable seafood choices, so really go for it!

  10. Mary Guidry
    March 21, 2016 at 11:25 am

    I always order mussels when on the menu, but have never made them at home. I just may have to try this … I’m pretty sure I have the skills for it. LOL. But I LOVE any sort of seafood, so I’m sure these will be as good as they sound! Thanks, so much, Theresa!!

  11. Pamela Green
    March 21, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    I often make steamed mussels, this will be a new favorite!

    Trix, regular old steamed mussels are one of the fastest/easiest dinners. Look online for recipes. You clean the mussels, melt some butter in a deep pan, saute garlic or shallots for a couple minutes, add the mussels, white wine and parsley, put a lid on it, turn up the heat… 5 minutes later dinner’s done!

  12. Adina
    March 28, 2016 at 9:05 am

    Hi Theresa, This recipe looks incredibly yummy and I think I will make an extra batch of the butter to have on-hand. Thank you for sharing! You told Thoracias frozen mussels would be ok (I just moved from a coastal state myself). I’ve never bought frozen mussels before. How do we tell if they are good once defrosted? Will open shells close if you tap them or do you automatically throw them out?

    • Theresa
      March 28, 2016 at 11:03 am

      Adina, I’ve never actually used frozen mussels, so I googled to find you the best info. Scroll down to just past halfway down the page, and you’ll find info about frozen mussels. Theresa

    • Adina
      March 28, 2016 at 11:47 am

      Thanks Theresa. Much appreciated!

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