Saffron and mussels are old friends. Traditionally this combo is found in Bouillabaisse, a Provencal seafood stew. For today’s recipe I wanted to keep things simple and quick- just stick with mussels. I love cooking mussels for the briny, savory broth these mollusks release. Often you’ll come across mussels served with linguine or frites, but I’m a big fan of boiled potatoes for soaking up broth. At the Boulder Farmers Market I picked up little new potatoes and plump grape tomatoes. Mussels with Tomato-Saffron Broth served over boiled new potatoes is a comforting and satisfying meal. Keeping things simple is a great way to experiment with adding saffron to the mix. Use a frugal hand when sprinkling in the brick red threads- too much saffron will leave a bitter taste in your mouth, seriously. I started with 10 strands saffron. After stirring and tasting the broth I carefully added 5 more strands. Seek balance- you don’t want to taste saffron. Your seasonings should be in harmony so no one spice stands out. The goal is an intriguing broth with a subtle heat. Give this dish a try and you’ll see what I mean.
Mussels with Tomato-Saffron Broth served over boiled new potatoes
Years spent working in restaurants and bakeries has made me the cook I am today. I like to prepare components of a dish separately and combine them all at the end. I do this because ingredients maintain their visual integrity (look prettier) as well as their own unique flavors. This sometimes means I have more dirty dishes than I would like, but it’s worth it for me. Think of this dish in three components cooked separately and combined at the end: boiled potatoes, sautéed tomatoes, mussels – serves 4
- 2 pounds small new potatoes, scrubbed clean but you don’t have to peel them
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound grape tomatoes
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 shallot, minced
- a pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 pound mussels, de-bearded and rinsed of all grit
- 15-20 strands saffron
- chopped parsley to garnish
Cook the Potatoes
Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the potatoes. Boil for 20-30 minutes until cooked through. Drain in a colander and cover with a dish towel to steam while you prepare the mussels and tomatoes.
Cook the Tomatoes
I like to slice half of the tomatoes in half. I leave the other tomatoes whole. Does that make sense? I do this so some of the tomatoes will release their juices, creating a sauce. The tomatoes left whole will pop when you eat them, which is a nice sensation. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium sautée pan of medium-high heat. Take 1 of the 3 garlic cloves and crush it with the flat side of your knife. Toss the single crushed garlic into the hot oil and cook for a minute to infuse the oil with flavor. Toss in all the tomatoes with a sprinkling of salt and pepper and sautée over medium-high heat while you prepare the mussels. After the tomatoes have cooked a few minutes, toss 1/2 cup water into the pan to create a tomato sauce. Make sure to scrape up all the little tomato bits because that’s where the flavor is.
Cook the Mussels
In a large pot heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Slice the garlic thinly and add it to the oil with the shallot. Cook for 1 minute to soften. Toss in a pinch of red pepper flakes. Add the mussels to the pot** along with 1/2 cup white wine. Bring liquid to a simmer, cover and cook 4 minutes or until the mussels open.
Remove the opened mussels from the pot and discard any that failed to open. Take your pan with the sautéed tomatoes and add it to the mussel broth. Stir in saffron threads and remove the pan from heat. Taste the mixture for seasoning and adjust accordingly.
To serve, place potatoes and mussels in each person’s bowl. Spoon the tomato broth over the mussels and potatoes. Sprinkle freshly chopped parsley as a garnish.
**Eating mussels safely: Mussels should be kept on ice in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. Also, use mussels the same day they are bought. Only cook mussels with shells that are closed. An open shell signals the mussel has died and it is not something you want to cook or eat. After cooking, mussel shells naturally open. This means they are done. Any mussels that fail to open after cooking should be discarded.