Mussels in Smoky Tomato Broth

A Saucy Valentine’s Day Dinner

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

There’s nothing like an overflowing bowl of steamy, saucy mussels to anchor a Valentine’s Day – or any dinner. Add a hunk of crusty bread to mop up the juices, and a big salad.

The nickname “poor man’s oyster” doesn’t apply to mussel’s today, although they remain an excellent value compared to other types of seafood because they are highly nutritious, and sustainable.

A 4-ounce (200 calorie) serving has 27 grams of lean protein. They’re an excellent source of a bunch of nutrients – B1, B2, B3, B12, folate, biotin, zinc, iron, manganese, selenium, copper, iodine – and  a good source of vitamins A and C, and magnesium (1).

Do you look for omega-3 fats? Mussels have about 1 gram of omega-3s per serving, comparable to wild salmon, oysters, sardines, and white albacore tuna (2).

Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch (3) calls farmed mussels “one of the most sustainable kinds of seafood you can buy.”  If those are not available, “…look for blue mussels caught in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, or Rhode Island, but know there are some environmental concerns.”

In an article entitled, “Is Eating Mussels More Sustainable than Veganism?” (4) Susman, the author, calls them “environmentally benign” and points out that farmed mussels do not require fresh water or feed (they filter water for nutrients) and don’t cause land erosion (4).

An advantage to life in the Pacific Northwest is access to fresh, farmed mussels. The oldest commercial mussel farm in North America, was started in Penn Cove on Whidbey Island in 1975 (5), and others have followed. I’ve bought them from Wescott Bay Shellfish Company and Taylor Shellfish Company, too. Some farms will ship them directly to you.

New to Mussel Prep (5,6,7,8)?

  • Purchase mussels (of have them delivered) within a day or two of cooking. Buy at least 1 pound per person. They should look and smell fresh. Ask for them to be put on ice for the ride home so they stay alive until cooked.
  • Chill them in a bowl topped with a damp towel until you’re ready to cook them. (I don’t soak farmed mussels, which are cultivated above the ocean floor, to expel sand as is recommended for wild mussels.)
  • Toss any cracked mussels, or open ones that don’t shut when you give the shell a tap.
  • Right before cooking, scrub each mussel under running water to remove any debris and pull of the beard (byssus thread), tugging toward the hinge, or snip it off with scissors. Pat dry if needed.

    Treat your valentine to a mountain of mussels.

    Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

    Mussels in Smoky Tomato Broth

    Serve with crusty bread or angel hair. To serve over angel hair, don’t reduce the sauce, just add angel hair, and cook right in the liquid (after removing cooked mussels) until it is al dente, adding more water, as needed.  

    Serves 2-4

    2 tablespoons olive oil

    ½ yellow onion or two leeks, chopped

    1 carrot, chopped

    1 link Spanish chorizo, chopped, optional

    1 to 2 cloves garlic

    ½ teaspoon smoked paprika

    ¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

    1 anchovy filet

    1 cup red wine

    1 can (28-ounce) crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces with all juices reserved ( See Tips)

    ½ cup chopped pitted green or black olives, optional

    Sprig or two of fresh thyme

    2 bay leaves

    4 pounds mussels

    Zest of 1 lemon

    2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, more to taste


    3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

    2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

    1. In a large Dutch oven or sturdy pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, sausage, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft.  Stir in smoked paprika, crushed red pepper, and anchovy. Mash anchovy with the back of a fork to a paste. Stir well.
    2. Add red wine, bring to a simmer, and cook for about 30 seconds, to burn off the raw alcohol taste. Add tomatoes and juices, olives, herb sprigs, and bay leaves. Cover, bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes for flavors to blend. Sauce can be made ahead.
    3. While sauce simmers, rinse mussels, removing any grit along with their “beards;” drain.
    4. Add mussels, re-cover pan, and adjust heat so it simmers gently. Stir every 3 to 4 minutes so mussels cook evenly. (The ones at the bottom will cook faster.)  Once mussels open, remove with a large, slotted spoon to a large warm serving bowl, reserving liquid in pot.
    5. Return sauce to heat and simmer for a couple of minutes to reduce. Add lemon zest and juice. Taste and add salt, if needed.  Stir in chopped parsley and thyme. Ladle sauce over mussels. Serve warm.


    • To break down whole canned tomatoes without losing juices to a cutting board:  Turn off the stove, and, with clean hands, hold each tomato over the pot and break into small pieces. Add with juice from can into the pot. 
    • To substitute diced tomatoes with juice, add 2 tablespoons tomato paste after mashing anchovy into a paste.


    1. ESHA Research. The Food Processor 11.11.32 © 2022.
    2. Health Benefits of Omega-3s | SEAFOOD HEALTH FACTS
    3. Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Mussels.
    4. Is eating farmed mussels more sustainable than veganism? John Susman. Hospitality Magazine. November 19,2019.
    5. Penn Cove Shellfish
    6. Food52 How to Clean and Prepare Mussels. Justina. September 11,2017.
    7. How to Clean Mussels. Allrecipes Editorial Team.  Updated on July 29, 2022.
    8. Pike Place Market Seafood Cookbook. Braiden Rex-Johnson. Trade Paperback. 1997.

      © Lorelle Del Matto 2023

      lorelle About lorelle

      Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


      1. Rick Seeley says

        I cannot wait to try this recipe!

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