This easy mussels in a spicy tomato sauce recipe is surprisingly simple to make! It’s an elegant meal, perfect for holiday entertaining or a romantic meal at home. Takes less than thirty minutes too. Don’t forget crusty bread for sopping up the spicy, garlicky sauce!
Did I ever tell you about the time I almost killed my husband on Valentine’s Day?
It was our first married Valentine’s Day, and even though I’m not really into the holiday, I decided to go all out and cook a romantic meal. I settled on mussels in a creamy dijon broth, homemade shoestring fries with rosemary salt, and these salted caramel brownies that are still one of the best brownies I’ve ever had.
When I picked up a bag of mussels from Whole Foods, I was surprised to find that most of them were cracked open a bit. I had never cooked mussels before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. When I called my dad (the mussels cooking master) to see what I should do with the open ones, my brother picked up the phone. Since he couldn’t find my dad to ask, he did a very typical little brother thing, pretended he asked my dad and told me they were fine. They were not fine.
We realized this out the next day, when my best friend and her now husband were in town, and in the midst of our Mexican dinner, both Scott and I started to sense that things were…not good. Let’s just say the fun Columbia weekend we planned quickly turned into shivering under three layers of blankets and binge watching Downton Abbey while trading turns running to the bathroom. So romantic.
I finally got past my mussels aversion a couple years ago, and decided to try my hand at making them again for an early Valentine’s Day dinner, since the hubs is traveling for work this year. So excited I did, because I forgot how easy they are for making an elegant meal.
How to Shop for Mussels
So you don’t die a slow and painful barfing death, here’s some tips for shopping for fresh and non-poisonous mussels for this easy mussels and spicy tomato sauce recipe:
First things first, make sure the mussels are still alive! The shells should be closed tightly. If open slightly, tap the shell and see if it closes. If so, it’s still alive.
Look for mussels that are damp, shiny, and smell fresh like the ocean - not fishy. Obviously, make sure they’re cold or on ice.
Ideally, purchase mussels the day you plan on cooking them.
Store mussels in a mesh bag in the fridge. The mesh bag is important, because it lets the mussels breathe.
Spicy Tomato Sauce for Mussels
The mussels I grew up eating at home were usually steamed in a garlic-white wine sauce, so I decided to try my hand at something a little different with this spicy tomato sauce. It’s SO good, especially with crusty bread to soak it up. Bonus points if it’s garlicky, olive oily toasted bread.
This simple tomato sauce is started by sauteeing garlic and onions in plenty of olive oil. Don’t skimp on the olive oil in this recipe. It adds a ton of flavor and richness to the sauce. It’s flavored with sweet paprika, chili flakes for spice, and bay for a depth of flavor, before adding white wine and canned tomatoes. The sauce is more brothy than thick, perfect for scooping some up with your mussel shell!
I would recommend using San Marzano tomatoes in this recipe for easy mussels in spicy tomato sauce, since it’s a simple recipe and you really want the flavor to shine through. San Marzano’s are an Italian variety that tastes extra sweet and tomato-ey and a little less acidic.
Serving Suggestions for Easy Mussels in Spicy Tomato Sauce:
Try these mussels paired with the following recipes:
Also, I should note it’s been over 24 hours since we had this dish, and we are still alive, so that’s good too.
Easy Mussels in Spicy Tomato Broth
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry white wine
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
3 lbs mussels, scrubbed and debearded
Chopped fresh parsley
Crusty bread, for serving
Heat olive oil in a large, deep pot on medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt and saute for 5 minutes until onions are translucent. Stir in chili flakes, paprika, and bay leaf, and cook for a minute. Pour in white wine and tomato broth. Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add mussels to the broth, cover, and simmer for 5-7 minutes until mussels open. Ladle the mussels and broth into bowls, garnish with parsley and serve with bread.