If you enjoy splurging on a few tins of fancy oil-cured or smoked seafood, you’re going to love this recipe for mussels in escabeche. Yes, you can just buy a can of marinated mussels, but a 4-ounce can will often run you $8 to $20, depending on brand and retail markup. And when fresh mussels are usually less than $5 per pound…
Joining the tinned fish revolution doesn't have to break the bank!
Only two years into the 2020s, and already it’s clearly becoming the decade of tinned fish. Boutique brands are exploding, and you’ve probably seen their colorful, cutesy packaging popping up all over social media. The good news is, they’re all legitimately delicious! As they say, the more the merrier, and I’m excited to abandon the perception that all canned fish is mushy like cheap water-packed tuna!
The bad news is that these trendy new tins can be absurdly expensive. Part of that comes down to quality of ingredients and cost of production. But if you compare prices between companies that are on par with each other in terms of quality, small-batch production, and environmental consciousness it’s hard to miss the price spike for the flashier, “trendier” looking brands.
All you need for escabeche is a few pantry staples.
To make an escabeche marinade you need vinegar, garlic and/or onion, spices, and some fresh herbs. While smoked paprika is a must, the specific mix of spices and herbs can vary. Chances are you already have what you need! My version is robustly flavored without being overly complicated, so the flavor of the mussels isn’t overshadowed. Bay leaves play a significant roll, along with peppercorns, and a few whole cloves.
Essentially, escabeche lightly pickling your food after it’s been cooked. A filet of fish or head of cauliflower, for example, might be baked or seared before being doused in the tangy, aromatic escabeche marinade. The meat or vegetable absorbs the tangy flavors and is then served cold or at room temperature. It’s the perfect addition to the table for hot days, as a main course or part of a larger spread.
Plump and juicy mussels are easy and quick to cook. Once scrubbed and purged they cook in about 5 minutes. After they have been sitting in their marinade, the savory morsels are full of flavor and ready for your next tapas night!
Don't be afraid to play with this mussels in escabeche recipe--make it your own!
More heat, more warming spices, less garlic, more oil…The world is your oyster! Or is it your mussel? There are so many variations on this recipe, and what could be more fun and tasty than experimenting to create your ideal marinade?
When cobbling together this recipe I read through a few versions on websites like Serious Eats (that one look painfully bland) and Bon Appétit. I liked the look of the BonApp recipe (by Benjamin Kemper) and I re-worked the ingredients list to fit my personal preferences. I am confident you’ll love my version, but I encourage you to play around.
Once you have a jar of mussels in escabeche waiting in your fridge, get creative with how you gobble them up! They make an ideal addition to a buffet or a charcuterie platter. Serve with crackers or perched on top of a crispy bean fritter. I also love to fold the mussels and a few spoonfuls of the marinade into a bowl of brothy beans.
Be sure to save the marinade! Try using it as a quick no-cook dressing for pasta. Toss with your favorite noodle shape (I love fettuccine and bucatini for this), then garnish with parsley and garlicky toasted bread crumbs. Fabulous!
Notes for Success:
Most grocery stores sell fresh mussels from PEI. They are farmed, which make them inherently less gritty, to the extent that some people say that you don’t have to purge them before cooking. I always purge my bivalves, just to be sure. As soon as you bring them home, fill a large bowl with cold, salted water (mussels can’t survive freshwater!). Let them soak in their saltwater for about 20 to 30 minutes, allowing them to take in clean water and flush out any remaining bits of grit and sand.
If you’re not using your mussels the same day you buy them, it’s best to keep them very, very cold. To recreate the bed of ice you see in the refrigerated fish counters, fill a large bowl or other large container with ice, then set a second bowl/container on top of that ice. Transfer your purged mussels to the inner bowl and cover with a damp dish towel. This will keep them colder than fridge temp, but is easier to clean up than storing them directly in ice. If storing for more than a day, dump out the melted ice and replace with fresh every 24 hours.
And yes! You can do this with clams, too!
How to Make Mussels in Escabeche
- ½ cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
- 2 large sprigs of thyme, left whole
- 2 to 3 pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 shallot, minced
- 4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 whole cloves
- 8 whole black peppercorns
- 8 whole white peppercorns
- 1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
- 4 tablespoons good quality white wine vinegar
- A few pinches of dried chili flakes (Optional)
- Kosher salt
- Step 1In a large pot or Dutch oven, combine the vermouth, ½ cup water, and thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil over medium-high. Add the mussels in an even layer, cover, and cook until the mussels just begin to open, about 3 to 5 minutes. Quickly give the mussels one solid stir, then re-cover and remove from the heat. Let the mussels continue to cook in the residual heat until the mussels are fully opened, another 5 minutes. When you remove the lid to check the mussels, be speedy so you don't lose too much of the heat.
- Step 2Transfer the mussels to a serving bowl with tongs or a slotted spoon. Once cool enough to handle, remove the meat and discard the shells, as well as any mussels that did not open. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs, then return the pot to medium-high heat and bring the liquid to a rapid simmer. Cook until reduced by about half, roughly 5 minutes.
- Step 3Make the marinade: In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low until shimmering. Add the shallot, garlic, bay leaves, cloves, and peppercorns. Cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ½ cup of the reduced simmering broth. Let rest until cool enough to not cook the remaining ingredients, about 5 minutes. Stir in the paprika, vinegar, chili flakes (if using), and 1 teaspoon salt (start with half as much if using table salt). Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. It should be potent but still very tasty.
- Step 4Transfer the mussel meat to a jar or other airtight container. Pour the marinade, including the whole spices, over the mussels. Cover and transfer to the refrigerator to marinate, at least 24 hours.