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Portuguese-Style Mussels in Garlic Cream Sauce - A Family Feast

Last December, Jack and I received a gift certificate to a Portuguese restaurant from our oldest daughter Courtney and her husband Ken. (They know we love going out to dinner – so it was a perfect gift!)

The restaurant, Cotali Mar, is located in New Bedford – a community along the southern coast of Massachusetts with a rich history as one of the most important whaling ports in the world. That same southern Massachusetts coastal area is also home to the largest Portuguese-American community in the United States. Even today, many of the residents still follow their ancestor’s customs with food, religion and community.  (So it is very safe to say – a restaurant in New Bedford is one of the places to go for authentic Portuguese food!)

Portuguese-Style Mussels in Garlic Cream Sauce - A Family Feast

This past weekend, with our 9-year-old at a sleepover, Jack and I finally used our gift certificate on a date night at Cotali Mar. Our meal was delicious – but one dish really stood out to both of us as our favorite – Portuguese-Style Mussels in Garlic Cream Sauce.  (And of course – that inspired today’s recipe!)

The key to this delicious Portuguese-Style Mussels in Garlic Cream Sauce is found in a type of hot red pepper paste called Pimenta Moida. At the end of the summer, you’ll find many Portuguese families cooking up a batch of this special sauce and jarring it so they can cook with it all year long!

Portuguese-Style Mussels in Garlic Cream Sauce - A Family Feast

Pimenta Moida has a very unique flavor, and the Portuguese use it in many of their recipes. And – after grilling our waiter for the recipe – we confirmed that the pimenta moida was that magic flavor that made our Portuguese-Style Mussels in Garlic Cream Sauce so delicious!

If you happen to live near a Portuguese market, you are likely to find pimenta moida there – or you can buy it online here from this New Bedford-based market. It really is key to the delicious success of this dish!  Right out of the jar, pimenta moida, it is hot, spicy and very salty – so it is meant to be used as an ingredient in recipes, not really as a condiment.

Portuguese-Style Mussels in Garlic Cream Sauce - A Family Feast

And, don’t forget to toast up some crusty bread when you make this Portuguese-Style Mussels in Garlic Cream Sauce…soaking up the delicious sauce is the very best part!

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Portuguese-Style Mussels in Garlic Cream Sauce

  • Prep Time: 30 mins
  • Cook Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 2-4 servings


  • 2 pounds fresh mussels, see below for preparation.
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup shallots, chopped small
  • 3 tablespoons fresh garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Pimenta Moida, jarred crushed hot peppers
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced small
  • Zest from half a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley minced, divided
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • ½ cup white wine, preferably Riesling
  • 8 ounce bottle clam juice
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • French bread, sliced and toasted
  • Garlic clove to rub on toasted bread


  1. To prepare mussels, scrub shells with a soft brush to remove any barnacles or scale. De-beard by pulling on the “beard” that protrudes from some of the shells and twist back and forth to remove. Do all of this while running under cold water. Any shells that stay open, discard. Keep mussels refrigerated until ready to use.
  2. In a large sauté pan or skillet, melt butter and oil over medium heat and add shallots and cook for two minutes.
  3. Add garlic, hot peppers, plum tomatoes, lemon zest, thyme and one tablespoon of parsley. Cook for five minutes.
  4. Add lemon juice and stir mixture.
  5. Add wine and cook for two minutes to reduce liquid by half.
  6. Add clam juice, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for five minutes.
  7. Increase heat to medium high, add mussels, cover and cook for two to three minutes or until mussels open.
  8. Remove from heat and remove mussels to a serving bowl using a spider or strainer, leaving liquid and solids behind in the pan.
  9. Return the pan to the heat and add cream and cook over medium high for two minutes.
  10. Remove from heat and stir in the two tablespoons of butter.
  11. Pour this mixture over the mussels and sprinkle the remaining parsley over the finished dish.
  12. Serve hot with toasted French bread slices that have been rubbed with garlic.
  13. Discard any mussels that do not open.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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Portuguese-Style Mussels in Garlic Cream Sauce - A Family Feast


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  • MVS wrote:

    Hello Martha, first of all,P ortuguese re ipês don’t mix with heavy cream . Not part of Portuguese cooking.
    Obviously the dish you loved is a mix of Portuguese and a version used in New England. I am certain the dish is tasty.
    For your info pimenta moída translates to ground pepper. The hot pepper we use is called piri- piri. An African Chile.

    Second, the Portuguese Community in Mass, mostly from the Azorean islands. Their cuisine maybe slightly different from mainland Portugal. The biggest? I don’t know, but most definitely the biggest from the Azores.

    I just wanted to let you know very simple facts. I am glad you enjoy “ Portuguese food” .

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks MVS!

  • Charlene wrote:

    Came across this recipe can’t wait to try it!
    I am located in New Bedford Ma

    • Martha wrote:

      Hope you enjoy the recipe Charlene! 🙂

  • Olivia wrote:

    Can I use hot chopped cherry peppers and add some more salt

    • Jack wrote:

      Yes of course, however these peppers have a very unique taste so yes you can use, however the final dish will taste differently than the recipe as written. Be careful with the salt, you can always add salt after the dish is complete.
      Good luck,

  • Ron Hodgson wrote:

    Is there a reason you remove the muscles from the pot and then add the cream. Why not just add the cream to the pot and cook the muscles.
    Just curious
    Excellent recipe

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Ron – Cream will separate/break if you cook it for too long so that’s why we add it at the end. And, we wanted to avoid over cooking the mussels so we removed them, then finished the sauce at the end.

  • Halina Duncan wrote:

    Hi. I used red pepper flakes from a jar and I have to say this was way way too spicy. Did I use the wrong peppers?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Halina – Yes – those are the wrong kind. You want to use pimenta moida which is a more like a spicy, chopped roasted red pepper. Here is a link to it on Amazon: – some supermarkets carry it these days too.

  • Elvira wrote:

    I made it and it’s, as we say in the Netherlands
    ” heerlijk!” deliciously.

    • Martha wrote:

      So glad you enjoyed the recipe Elvira! Happy New Year!

  • DanGeo wrote:

    Totally wonderful!
    Though I had to make some substitions. I don’t have the peppers so I used crushed Aleppo peppers and some Smoked Paprika. Also my bottle of Clam Juice expired in ’14 and my wife Said “No way”, so I used some Chicken Bone Broth. It still turned out great, what a treat.

    • Martha wrote:

      Eek! 2014!! 🙂 Glad you used chicken stock instead!

  • Diane wrote:

    Is this super spicy??

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Diane – No – the small amount pimenta moida adds a gentle heat. But if you want it less (or more) spicy, you can always start with a lesser amount and add more to suit your tastes.

  • Cecelia wrote:

    My favorite Portuguese food! And, if I ever have any sauce left over, I use it to make rice the next day…just add extra water if needed.

    • Martha wrote:

      What a great idea Cecelia! Thank you for sharing! (Next time…I think we need to make extra sauce so we can try your rice idea!) 🙂

  • Leigh wrote:

    Hi Martha & Jack. This recipe looks delicious! However I live north of Boston and don’t feel like taking the trip to get the pepper. I’m wondering if it’s vinegar based. Can I use the crushed pepper we use on our italian subs?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Leigh! It’s definitely different than the crushed peppers used on Italian subs – saltier and there’s a fermentation process when it’s made that gives it a really unique flavor. (There might be some vinegar in it – but not as much as in the Italian peppers.) You might be able to order it online…in addition to the market we linked to in our post, there is a new bigger market in New Bedford that also sells it: Hope that helps!

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