Steamed Mussels in Tomato Sauce
Steamed Mussels in Tomato Sauce

Fresh mussels steamed in tomato sauce and served over pasta are the ultimate comfort food! Luckily, fresh clams are readily available these days AND they’re easy to prepare.

One of my favorite meals is a big bowl of mussels with crusty bread. If you’ve never eaten mussels before, they’re like clams or oysters and have a salty flavor and a firm but creamy texture. Unlike clams or oysters, however, I have never eaten mussels raw and prefer them in a rich sauce.

Take this tomato sauce with bacon and wine, for example. This is one of those dishes that you might only order at a restaurant but are totally doable in the home kitchen! Let’s dig and make some shells.

How to buy seashells

Fresh mussels are readily available these days, but it’s important to check for freshness. Fresh mussels should be alive; Their shells should be closed, or if they’re slightly open, they should close when you tap them lightly.

You can always ask your fishmonger exactly where they came from and how long ago they were harvested. The mussels should smell fresh, like the sea, but not fishy at all.

How to store and clean clams

Once you’ve bought the mussels, you can safely store them on ice in the fridge for a day or two. I generally try to buy mussels the same day or the day before I plan to cook them.

The only step you have to take to clean the shells is to remove the “beard”. This is a tiny, almost furry bit that sticks out of the side of each shell – this is how they cling to rocks. It is not edible. (You can see it sticking out of the right side of the shell in the photo above.)

Preparation of the tomato sauce

There’s a lot to be said for this hearty tomato sauce, but to speed up cooking time, I’d recommend using a marinara sauce in a jar rather than starting with canned tomatoes, which would require a longer cooking time to break down.

However, if you want to make a sauce from scratch, by all means do it. Our easy tomato sauce should work great. You’re going to add something anyway!

Start the sauce with some bacon in a pan and the fat will start to melt. Then add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and cook for a minute.

Deglaze your pan with wine (or you can use vegetable or seafood stock) to scrape off any bits stuck to the pan and pour in the marinara. Bring the marinara mixture to a simmer and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.

Once the sauce has cooked, add all of your cleaned clams, cover the pan and let them steam for five minutes, until they have all opened. Mussels that have not opened after five minutes should be discarded.

What to serve with mussels

There are two ways to serve these mussels.

  • Starter! Serve the sauce and mussels with crusty bread for a hearty appetizer. Use the bread to soak up the delicious sauce and people can scoop out as many clams as they want. Yummy.
  • Dinner! Cook and drain a pound of spaghetti, add about 3/4 cup (or more) of the marinara sauce from the skillet to the spaghetti and stir. Divide the spaghetti among the plates and garnish with more sauce and mussels. Garnish the spaghetti with fresh parsley. It’s a real treat!

Mussels don’t make good leftovers

Unfortunately, mussels do not store well after cooking. I would plan to eat all the leftovers in a day or two, gently reheating the sauce and mussels on the stovetop over low heat with a splash of water.

I would not freeze the sauce. Cooked frozen mussels are not a thing. Their texture becomes mushy and they lose their fresh taste.

love clams? Here are more recipes!

  • Mussels in white wine
  • Spaghetti with clams
  • Coconut Curry Mussels
  • Cioppino
  • Angel Hair Pasta with clams, cherry tomatoes and basil

Steamed mussels in tomato sauce

preparation time
10 mins

cooking time
20 minutes

total time
30 minutes

6 servings

Cleaning clams isn’t too difficult – it just takes a little time. Clams have a tiny fluffy thing hanging out on one side. This is called “beard” and is not edible. Pull it out of each clam and then rinse the clams well with cold water.


  • 4 stripes Bacon, chopped

  • 1/2 small white onion, chopped

  • 3 cloves Garlic, cut

  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/2 Cup White wine, Optional

  • 3 to 4 cups Marinara saucestore bought or homemade

  • 1 1/2 to 2 lb Shellfishscrubbed, debearded, rinsed and drained

To serve (optional):

  • 1 lb Spaghetti, drained when served as a main course

  • Crispy breadwhen served as an appetizer

  • Fresh Parsley


  1. Prepare tomato sauce:

    Place chopped bacon in a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat. Cook bacon until fatty and beginning to crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Then add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper and cook until onions are soft and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes.

    Cook for another minute or two to soften the garlic and combine the flavors. Then pour in the wine to deglaze the pan – this will loosen any stuck bits in the pan and help the flavors combine. Cook for a minute and then pour in the marinara sauce and stir. Bring the mixture to a simmer, turn the heat down to low and simmer, partially covered, for 5 minutes.

  2. Add the mussels and cook:

    Remove the lid and add all the mussels. Cover the pan and shake gently. Cook mussels for 4 to 5 minutes until they open. Discard any that don’t open.

  3. Surcharge:

    Serve with crusty bread as a starter or overcooked pasta as a main course.

    Leftover Clams and Sauce: Mussels, like most seafood, don’t last long as leftovers. The sauce and clams are good in the fridge for a day or two. Gently heat them on the stove with a splash of water. I would not freeze this dish.

nutritional information (per serving)
389 calories
12g Fat
26g carbohydrates
41g protein
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Hello everybody, Even if you're limited on time and money, I believe you can prepare wonderful food with everyday products. All you have to do is cook cleverly and creatively!