pine bough-grilled mussels with aioli

photo by Katie Stoops

pine bough-grilled mussels with aioli

Grilling with pine wood isn’t for every food, as the resinous smoke can be overpowering and bitter. But given the quick cooking time of mussels, the aromatic, dense smoke provides the perfect touch. The pine branches should be fresh, green, and taken from a non-chemically treated tree. Look for boughs that have a thin branch tip—no more than a half-inch diameter—and that are fairly dense with needles.

  • 1 large egg yolk

  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

  • 2 cloves garlic, grated

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • 2 cups canola oil

  • 4-6 pine boughs (see headnote)

  • 4 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded

  • Toothpicks, for serving

  1. Make aioli. In a bowl, add egg yolk, vinegar, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Whisk to combine, then begin to add oil in a slow, steady stream. Continue whisking as you add oil until sauce is thickened and consistency is like a smooth mayonnaise (if mixture gets too thick, add a couple drops of water to thin it out). Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use. Aioli can be made up to 2 days in advance.

  2. Preheat charcoal grill to medium heat, with coals evenly spread on bottom. Place pine boughs directly on grill grate in a 1-inch thick layer. There should be enough pine so that bottom layers can burn and smoke while top layers protect mussels from getting ashes inside once they open.

  3. As soon as pine boughs begin to sizzle and release wisps of steam and smoke, scatter mussels over them and cover grill. After 7 minutes, uncover grill and remove any mussels that have opened. Continue to cook until remaining mussels have opened, another 5 minutes. Discard any that remain closed. Transfer one charred pine bough to a platter and top with mussels. Serve with aioli for dipping.

Serves 4.

cook’s note: If using a gas grill, preheat all burners to high and cook as noted above.