The first meal I ever cooked for Charlie (nearly 7 years ago!!) was mussels in red sauce.
He never remembered this part, mind you. But only because the appetizers were so eventful.
Because I am a hopeless overachiever and show-off (in addition to romantic, of course) I decided it would be a good idea to casually shuck oysters for us. No pressure. About three bivalves in, lost in conversation and nerves, I casually stabbed myself with the shucking knife. As blood ran down my arm, I continued to act casual, smiling, laughing—oh this? Just a scratch.
Charlie, ever the gentleman, asked me to teach him what to do so that he could take over while I went to the bathroom to build a casual tourniquet. He’s been shucking oysters for me ever since.
The mussels though—the mussels! They were my culinary redemption of the night (or so I thought). Instead of using a premade marinara like most red sauce mussels, I prefer to go the fresh route, chopping up beautiful heirlooms and letting them melt away into the brine from the shellfish until it forms a light, flavorful broth.
Building on this concept, recently I decided to round up even more summer produce and do a play on succotash as the mussels’ sauce. The whole thing comes together very quickly—in less than 10 minutes. Simply sauté your corn, onion, scallions and tomatoes. Add a little smoked paprika for depth and turmeric to light the corn color on fire. And of course lots of red pepper flakes to make it spicy.
Some might say it’s sacrilege to not add a dash of white wine, but the acidity from the tomatoes means you don’t really need it. As the mussels open, they release liquid and loosen the sauce, meaning there will still be plenty to mop up with a piece of crusty bread or crispy homemade French fry (date night gold).
I’m a big believer that any decent mussel dish should be finished with a heaping handful of fresh herbs to offset the salty, acidic broth. I like using basil—especially lemon basil—for this one, but feel free to add whatever you have on hand. Cilantro and chives would also be wonderful with the corn.
Read on for this spicy mussels recipe with succotash. It is a stunner, especially for a first date, should your own blood not be flowing along with the red sauce.
With health and hedonism,
Spicy Succotash Mussels
- 1 ½ pounds mussels
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 small red onion diced
- 1 bunch scallions white and green parts separated, finely diced
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 vine tomatoes finely diced
- 2 ears sweet corn kernels removed
- ¼ cup chopped basil leaves
Rinse the mussels under cold water, scrubbing off any barnacles and removing the beards (the hairy bits peaking through the shells). Place the cleaned mussels in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside while you begin the succotash sauce.
In a large lidded saucepan, heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onion and white scallions. Sauté until translucent, 5 minutes. Stir in the turmeric, smoked paprika, red pepper and salt. When fragrant, about 1 minute, carefully add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have released some of their juices and softened, 3 minutes. Fold in the corn kernels and cook for 1 minute more.
Lift the mussels out of the water one handful at a time, leaving behind any sand and grit, and add them to the pan. Toss them once so they are coated in the sauce, then cover with the lid and simmer on medium-high for 3-5 minutes, until all the shells have opened.
Remove from the heat and add the green scallions and basil to garnish. Serve immediately with baked French fries or good bread on the side for dipping.