When I first started to cook, at around 13, I convinced my mom to let me use her ever-valuable White Zinfandel from the top shelf of our cupboard. “Only a glass,” she would say. That early version of mussels in wine was so undercooked that everyone left the dinner table slightly drunk—and so naturally it became a meal we all looked forward to. Years later, I would replace Jean’s White Zin with a drier, higher-noted rosé; still, a splash of vermouth rouge leaves behind some sweetness that, though not cloying, rounds things out like a familiar friend.
I feel the same way about moules marinières as I do about a good charcuterie board: though excellent as a starter, it’s the solo eater's favorite dinner, made complete with a glass of wine and a hunk of carbohydrate. Sometimes the key to high self-maintenance is low-maintenance food.
1/2 pound fresh, live mussels
1 clove garlic, sliced
Pinch dried chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup vermouth rouge
1/4 cup wine, rosé or white
Clean, debeard, and check the mussels for life (they should all be shut tight). If you see an open one, then knock it against the counter to see if it closes back up. Toss it if it doesn’t; toss it if you’re unsure.
The actual recipe is quick. First, sauté the garlic in a bit of olive oil for a few seconds until fragrant. Next, stir in the dried chili flakes, celery salt, and paprika. Let the spices bloom in the garlicky oil while you grab the vermouth, which should be splashed in and bubbled away until reduced slightly. Then, add the wine and clatter in the mussels, turning the heat up to high; cover and cook for 3–4 minutes or until the blue-black beauties have opened up.
Use an empty mussel shell as makeshift tongs to eat the rest. Sop up the boozy broth with crusty French bread. Get an anchor tattoo.