Spicy Mussels with Herbs and feta Cheese


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    4 to 6

Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

This dish certainly isn’t slow in the traditional sense if you prepare it the way they do in Thrace— quickly in a skillet with hot peppers, garlic, and butter. It is this last ingredient that “only a wacky Thracian” would add. And it is possible to take a slow approach with excellent results.

In this adapted recipe, a variation on the famous Macedonian mussels saganaki, the mussels are partially prepared in the morning not merely to remove the sand, shells, and beards but also to infuse the mussels with a Thracian herb and spice mixture. When it’s time to serve, simply reheat the mussels and mount their juices with butter.

Try to serve with glasses of ouzo and thin slices of toasted baguette sticking out of the broth, useful for soaking up the spicy juices.


  • 3 pounds small mussels
  • Sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cinnamon stick, 2 inches long
  • cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ¼ cup slivered fresh basil
  • ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 long dried red chile pepper, about 3 inches long
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
  • 3 ounces cow’s milk feta
  • Salt
  • Garlic toasts


  1. Scrub the mussels, pull off the beards, and rinse in several changes of water. Place the mussels in a bowl of lightly salted cool water and let stand for at least 1 hour so they purge themselves of sand. (Farmed mussels do not need soaking; if soaked, they lose all their flavor.) Drain the mussels.
  2. Heat a large nonreactive shallow pan until hot, add 1 tablespoon of the butter, and allow to sizzle. Add the cinnamon stick, mussels, and wine all at once, cover, and cook over high heat until the mussels open, about 2 minutes. If the shells are just beginning to open, leave them 1 minute longer, but do not overcook. Transfer the mussels to a bowl in order to catch their juices. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve and reserve. Discard the cinnamon stick. Shell the mussels and season them with the black pepper and the lemon juice.
  3. Wipe out the pan, add another tablespoon of the butter, and set over medium heat. Add half the basil, half the parsley, and the chile pepper and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add the tomato paste, reserved mussel cooking liquid, and garlic; quickly bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced to about 1 cup. Remove from the heat, add the mussels, and set aside to cool. If making in advance, cool, cover, and refrigerate.
  4. About 30 minutes before serving, bring the mussels to room temperature if prepared in advance. If the feta is very salty, soak it in cold water to remove excess salt. Drain the feta and cut into small slices. Dice the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Scatter the feta and butter over the mussels. Slowly cook until almost boiling. Swirl to allow the butter and cheese to thicken the sauce. Correct the seasoning of the sauce with salt, pepper, and lemon. Garnish with the remaining basil and parsley and serve at once with the garlic toasts.