The Secret Ingredient (Saffron): Mussels with Saffron and Tomatoes Recipe

Photographs: Kerry Saretsky

When working with secret ingredients, I like to find perfect pairs. Jelly for peanut butter. Peas for carrots. Once you find their match, there are an unlimited number of iterations you can create using the dynamic duo.

Mussels pair perfectly with saffron. In cooking school, we made a creamy saffron-ed mussel soup. One of my favorite recipes is creamy saffron and mussels pasta. There is something about creamy saffron mussel anything that just works. I think there is an opposites-attract aspect to why the pair always comes off without a hitch.

Saffron is very earthy to me, very pungent. And mussels are the opposite—extremely maritime and briny. I think the combination of cream and saffron prevents the mussels from tasting like they were just scraped off a dock. And I also love the irony of it: saffron, the most expensive spice on the market, and cream, always luxurious, with cheap, cheap mussels. It's a great way to make an "expensive" dish of seafood and saffron with very little money.

This ten-minute, one-pot dish goes down like a house on fire. And anyone can make it. Sop up the soup with crusty baguette, or boil plain pearl couscous and put that at the bottom of your bowl to eat with the strands of saffron and just-burst sweet tomatoes.

Recipe Facts



Active: 10 mins
Total: 70 mins
Serves: 4 servings

Rate & Comment


  • 4 pounds mussels
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 large shallots, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock, dry white wine, or water
  • 1 teaspoon saffron
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream


  1. Put the mussels in a large bowl full of water, a large handful of ice, and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour. Allow to mussels to sit in the liquid for 1 hour, to disgorge any sand.

  2. In a wide braising pan with high sides, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots, and sauté, stirring often, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, wine, or water, and the saffron. Rinse off the mussels, and add them and the tomatoes to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot, raise the head to medium-high, and cook until all the mussels are wide open, 5 to 7 minutes.

  3. Take the pot off the heat, and stir in the cream. Serve with warm crusty baguette, or even over plain pearl couscous.