5 Ingredients or Fewer

“Burn-Your-Fingers” Mussels (to dip in Lemon-Black Pepper Butter)

September 24, 2012
0 Ratings
  • Makes 6 servings
Author Notes

The first time I ate shellfish prepared this way, they were tiny scallops called Coquilles “Brûle Doigts,” and I was in a fish bistro in Paris named La Cagouille. I’ve been making them at home ever since—sometimes just for myself! On a trip to San Francisco, I found them again, on the menu of an incredible bistro named “LuLu.” Then owner, Reed Hearon, had named them after the same bistro in Paris, and we had a great conversation about how much we both like La Cagouille—and mollusks prepared this way. I think you will, too! —ChefJune

What You'll Need
  • 2 pounds fresh mussels (or tiny clams [cockles] or scallops in their shells)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter to melt for dipping (or 1 stick)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • fresh lemons cut into wedges
  1. Just before you prepare this dish, scrub the shellfish thoroughly and rinse them with several changes of cool water. Pull the beards off the mussels. (If you do this in advance, they will die and spoil!) Discard any of the mussels that you can’t encourage to close their shells. (They are already dead!) If you are using clams or scallops, you will not have to worry with the beards. Just scrub each piece, discarding any that won’t close, and proceed with step 2.
  2. Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Use no fat at all. When a few drops of water sizzle in the skillet and vaporize, you’re ready to cook the mussels. Put all the mussels into the pan and start shaking it at once. The mussels should begin to open immediately. Keep shaking the pan until all of them have opened. If the pan becomes completely dry, sprinkle a few drops of water to moisten it. When all the mussels are opened, grind some fresh black pepper on them and bring the pan right to the table
  3. For the dipping sauce, melt the unsalted butter and stir in the fresh lemon juice and freshly ground pepper. Garnish the pan with freshly cut lemon wedges.
  4. Teacher's Tip: The beard on a mussel is seaweed that has gotten caught in the shell. Most widely available mussels are farm raised and generally beardless and sand-free, but if you get the “wild” kind, you’ll need to pull the beards off. They’re edible, but generally not appetizing nor attractive. Mussels (and other shellfish) with open shells may be dead. Rap on the shell with your knuckles or the blunt end of a knife—then try to close them. If these methods don’t work, discard. Only live shellfish are safe to eat

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Stradford Stone II
    Stradford Stone II
  • hardlikearmour
  • ChefJune
  • Greenstuff
30+ years a chef, educator, writer, consultant, "winie," travel guide/coordinator

5 Reviews

Stradford S. June 8, 2015
Amazing. Bottom line. Salute...
ChefJune June 9, 2015
thanks. so glad you liked them.
dcadence April 7, 2013
the beard is not seaweed 'caught in the shell' it is how the mussel attaches itself to objects in the ocean. if it were seaweed they would all be uniform...
Greenstuff May 30, 2016
This recipe (a keeper) just got some attention, so I will add. Byssal threads are really interesting, at least from a natural history/bio materials perspective. It's actually little round plates at their ends that attach to the surface. The cement has been of interest for medical and dental applications, where we'd like an adhesive that sets and works in wet conditions. The threads themselves are interesting, because they're both very strong and very flexible. When mussels are small, they can detach the threads and move around. Later, they pretty much stay in one place but can always generate more. Sorry to go geek on such a nice, classic recipe. I'll atone with a bowlful of these.
hardlikearmour September 25, 2012
This sounds simply delicious!