Mussels are really easy to make, readily available (and affordable!) in most areas, and most importantly super delicious. There are so many ways to make them, but a family favorite of ours is with a simple red sauce. This Mussels marinara recipe takes about 30 minutes and can be served as an appetizer with crusty Italian bread or as a main course over pasta. The choice is yours. Let's make it!
This dish is really similar to our clams in red sauce, so if you feel like clams instead definitely check that one out.
Let's talk about mussels
There are a lot of different edible mussel varieties, but the ones that are the safest bet, are the cultivated blue/black variety.
They are grown on strings and have minimal sand and smaller beards.
Beards (byssus threads) are a seaweed-like thread that mussels use to secure themselves to rocks and hard surfaces.
Sometimes commercially raised ones will have had the beards removed during processing, however, most of the time there will still be some beards or loose threads hanging around so a good cleaning is still in order.
How To Clean Them
Put the mussels in cool, not cold, water with a ¼-1/2 cup of salt per gallon of water. Mix it around and let the mussels sit for at least an hour.
The water will encourage them to filter any remaining sand and most importantly show any beards that have not been removed commercially.
To remove the beard grab it with a paper towel (the beards will slip from your hand if you try to pull barehanded) and pull the beard towards the joint of the mussel.
Discard the beard and set that mussel aside. Go through them all and when satisfied give the mussels a thorough scrubbing with a hard bristle brush to remove any debris.
Rinse them one more time and they are now ready to cook. The cleaning process takes about 10 minutes for 2 pounds of mussels.
For this recipe, you will need 2 pounds of cultivated mussels, white wine (we used Pinot Grigio), one 28 ounce can of whole San Marzano plum tomatoes, basil, garlic, hot red pepper flakes, olive oil, and salt and pepper.
How to make mussels marinara
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Begin by slicing up 6 cloves of garlic.
- In a pan large enough for the sauce and mussels, begin the saute process. Saute the garlic in a ¼ cup of olive oil over medium-low heat.
- Add in a ¼ teaspoon (or to taste) hot red pepper flakes and let it cook with the garlic. Once the garlic is lightly golden add in a ½ cup of dry white wine.
- Turn heat to high and boil the wine for 2 minutes.
- Turn heat down to medium and add in the blender pulsed or hand crushed plum tomatoes. Give it a stir and cook the sauce for 5 minutes or so on a lively simmer.
- Add in the cleaned mussels and mix them into the sauce.
- Cover the mussels with a tight-fitting lid and cook until they open.
- The mussels will open quickly ( about 3-5 minutes). After most have opened turn heat off and add in the basil. Either hand tear it as shown or chop with a knife. A nice drizzle of high quality extra virgin olive oil can be added as well if desired. We recommend it!
That's how you make mussels in red sauce or mussels marinara.
My favorite way to serve this dish is with a whole loaf of crusty Italian bread.
Alternatively, you can serve it over pasta. This recipe will be enough for about a ½ pound of pasta.
- Always thoroughly clean and look over the mussels whether they are cultivated or wild. Check for beards and remove them with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel.
- Mussels only take a few minutes to open with moderate heat. Any that do not open after about 5-6 minutes are most likely dead and should be discarded before serving.
- Eat right away. Reheating seafood in the microwave is not recommended. If you must reheat mussels do so in a saucepan on low heat.
Want more Italian seafood dishes?
- Zuppa di pesce - Italian seafood stew with fish, mussels, clams, calamari, and shrimp.
- Mussels in white sauce - mussels tossed with fresh parsley in a garlicky white wine sauce.
- Fried calamari - Classic appetizer of squid rings fried until golden and served with marinara and lemon wedges.
- Baked clams oreganata - Simple appetizer with seasoned breadcrumbs, white wine, and lemon.
- Linguine with red clam sauce - Littleneck clams tossed with a garlicky red sauce over linguine.
- Shrimp fra diavolo - New York classic spicy shrimp dish with pasta.
- Lemon garlic shrimp pasta - Garlic butter shrimp tossed with fresh parsley and pasta.
- Pan-seared swordfish steaks with olives and capers - Easy swordfish recipe with a delicious olive, caper, and tomato relish.
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Watch the video below where Jim will show you how to make this recipe with easy-to-follow instructions.
Some people learn by watching. If you're that type of person, you can find most of our recipes on YouTube and our Facebook Page.
- 2 pounds mussels cleaned
- 6 cloves garlic sliced
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes optional
- basil ¼ cup chopped
- 1 28 ounce can plum tomatoes blender pulsed
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Begin by either hand crushing or blender pulsing (for 2-3 seconds) the plum tomatoes. Set aside. In a large wide pan saute garlic in a ¼ cup olive oil over medium-low heat.
- Once the garlic turns lightly golden (about 2 minutes) add the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds more. Add in the white wine and turn heat to high. Boil for 2 minutes.
- Turn heat down to medium and add in the blender pulsed tomatoes. Stir sauce and let simmer for 5-10 minutes.
- Add in the cleaned mussels, mix into the sauce, and cover. The mussels will open within a few minutes.
- After 5 minutes discard any mussels that have not opened. Turn off heat and taste test the sauce. Adjust salt and pepper levels if required. Add in the chopped basil and stir. Serve with crusty Italian bread. Enjoy!
- Thoroughly clean and look over the mussels. Remove any beards.
- Any mussels that do not open in 5-7 minutes cooking time should be discarded as they are most likely dead.
- Reheating leftover seafood in the microwave is not recommended. If you must reheat mussels do so in a saucepan on low heat.
Excellent! My order of mussels will be delivered tomorrow by the Fishmonger. Looking forward to trying this recipe, so simple but looks delicious. (I was searching for another way of cooking mussels to the usual white wine and garlic/cream sauce). Thank you.
Hi Susan! I always have a hard time deciding between the white or red sauce version. Hope you enjoy them with the marinara.
Ozone recipe. Simple, easy and delicious!
Simple, easy and delicious!
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the recipe!
So easy to make and everyone loved them. Thank you for posting
Thanks so much! Glad you all enjoyed the mussels!
Made this today. Got 4 lbs of mussels from Fulton Fish Market and followed your recipe exactly. They were unbelievably good... I enjoy mussels from 2 restaurants on Earth, and now from my own kitchen. Thank you so much, Jim!! 😋
Hi Rosemary. I'm happy to hear that you enjoyed them and that you got to see how easy mussels are to cook.
Really enjoy your show…excellent recipes and presentations. I watch it often.
Thanks very much, Marsha!
Amazing recipe! Added double the garlic and bit of brown sugar.
Glad you enjoyed it, Jackie!
Excellent! I served this over spaghetti & my husband who happens to be a good cook absolutely raved over it. I don’t even eat mussels & I loved the sauce. I plan on serving this at our next dinner party as a first course/appetizer.
Hi Maria, thank you for the comment! So happy you enjoyed this and hope it's a hit at your dinner party!
Amazing and soooo easy
Thanks, Nancy! So happy you liked this one!
Top notch recipe that’s very easy and straightforward. Loved it and will be making it biweekly as long as mussels are available.
Hi Emory, thank you for the comment and very happy you enjoyed this recipe!
Hi Jim, I'm making Mussels marinara for my Friday night dinner over a linguine pasta. The only thing I suggest to this dish is to add fresh parsley instead of basil. I figured you can try the next you make it and have your handsome son do the taste test. It's just a suggestion!! And thank you for all your amazing recipes. You are truly an amazing chef!!
Hi Anna, thanks for the comment and suggestion!
How many pounds of mussels and cans of tomato sauce do you think I need for about 18 people? This looks so good and delicious. Want to try for Christmas Eve.
Hi there, the recipe makes 4 servings. You can adjust the scale within the recipe card to the number of servings you want. I think it depends on if you're making it as an appetizer and how much other food you're also serving.
Great recipe. Easy to follow
Hi Susan, thanks for the comment and so happy you enjoyed the recipe!