Moules à la Marinière

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Moules (or mussels as we refer to them in English) are small shellfish that are found clinging to rocks along the coast. They can handpicked but my understanding is that the majority of mussels are new farmed. As indiscriminate feeders mussels will eat anything so are a potential food poisoning hazard and farmed mussels do a lot to keep the food supply clean. So wild isn’t always better. 

Regardless, assuming you are lucky enough to be able to source fresh mussels they are a fantastic fun dish, the eating of which will dispense with any airs or graces you might have. The mussels split into two open shells as they cook and the tradition is to pull the individual halves apart and use one shell to scoop the cooked flesh from the other. Sometimes it’s worth getting your hands dirty. 

Relative to the size of the mussel itself, the amount of edible flesh is relatively small so a large pot of mussels may still only be suitable for one or two persons. A kilo of mussels would feed roughly two people provided it is accompanied by plenty of crusty bread or, as is traditional in northern France, frites (fries). Unlike your typical fork-fodder, when purchased for consumption mussels are live. Dead mussels are a possible way to get food poisoning so care is required to ensure that only fresh, live mussels are cooked. Mussels open and shut naturally to breathe and should not necessarily be submerged in water prior to cooking. While sources differ on this latter point I think this may be in part due to a previous requirement to cleanse the mussels of sand. My experience has been that this is not a requirement for shop-bought, farmed mussels but depending on the source of the mussels (wild vs farmed, commercial vs handpicked) you might need to do some extra prep but I’ll confine this post to the more typical scenario – for me at least. 

When purchasing mussels it’s done by the kilo the mussels are typically kept chilled at the fishmongers (but not submerged in water). The mussels may open up if undisturbed but any rough handling or knocking about will tend to result in the mussel closing over. Mussels that close while in this setting will therefore be full of air and will float to the top of water if you place them in a basin – which somewhat dispenses with the old idea that mussels that float have gone bad. So now you know, live mussels will open and close and should be kept dry and refrigerated before cooking. A healthy mussel will open and close periodically but should close up in response to a tap of a spoon or jostling around in a shopping bag. And a healthy mussel will open up open cooking. So with these two points in mind we come to the tradition rules for sorting mussels prior to, or after, cooking. 

Prior to cooking

  • Mussels that don’t close when tapped with the back of a knife should be discarded as they are likely dead
  • Mussels with cracked shells are more likely to be dead
  • Overly heavy or light mussels are likely full of sand or empty/dead

Post cooking

  • Mussels that don’t open up should be discarded as they were likely dead before being cooked. 

Moules à la Marinière

Recipe by CathalCourse: DinnerCuisine: FrenchDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time






  • Mussels (500g per person)

  • A half bottle of dry white wine

  • 6-8 shallots, finely chopped

  • Teaspoon of parsley

  • Bay leaf

  • A pinch of thyme

  • Pepper

  • 50g of butter


  • Prepare the muscles for cooking by cleaning them under running water. Use a knife to remove the ‘beards’ and discard any muscles that appear dead (see above) or have damaged shells. 
  • Set the mussels aside and add the remaining ingredients to a pot. Bring the the boil for a couple of minutes. 
  • Add the mussels to the pot and keep on a high heat with the lid on. Agitate the pot frequently to ensure the mussels cook evenly. 
  • After 3-5 minutes the shells will open and the mussels are ready to serve. 
  • Add to bowls along with a helping of the cooking sauce and serve with crusty bread or, in northern French tradition, fries. 


  • Cost for dish: Approximately €11 for four adult servings
  • Kilo of Mussels (4.50 per kg, France, 2023)
  • Wine half bottle (2, France 2023)
  • Shallots (8, 1 euro France 2023)