Savory Drunken Shellfish Simmered in Bourbon

Bourbon mussels are just one of many surprising flavor combinations in Justin Sutherland’s new Southern-inspired home-cooking book

Photo: Kenny Erickson

“It was the combined cultures of my family that gave me my first glimpse into the vast possibilities that foods brought to the world,” writes Justin Sutherland in his flavorful and personal new cookbook, Northern Soul: Southern-Inspired Home Cooking from a Northern Kitchen. “On my mother’s side, my grandmother Masako came to this country from Japan during the Korean War…My grandfather on that side is a 6-foot, 5-inch Viking of Norwegian descent, a product of the Great Depression, from a family of farmers and carpenters. On my father’s side, I am the descendant of slaves and sharecroppers. My grandfather, Harold, came up from Mississippi and settled in Waterloo, Iowa, with my Grandma Zona. Food was Zona’s love language, and her food was the start of my love of soul food and barbecue.”

With a palate of diverse flavors, Sutherland blazed his own trail, winning Food Network’s Iron Chef in 2018 and placing as a finalist in Bravo’s Top Chef: Kentucky. He runs the Handsome Hog, a pork-focused Southern restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota, and his new cookbook draws largely on his Southern roots, including this recipe that combines shellfish and bourbon. “How do you make mussels come out of their shell? You get ’em drunk!” he writes. “Be sure to have some crusty bread close by so you can sop up all this bourbon-laced sauce.”


  • Bourbon Mussels (Yield: 4 to 6 servings)

    • 4 bacon slices, chopped

    • 8 oz. andouille sausage, chopped

    • 4 Fresno chiles

    • 4 garlic cloves, minced

    • 2 medium shallots, coarsely chopped

    • 8 oz. bourbon

    • 2 cans whole tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped

    • 1½ tsp. crushed red pepper

    • 1 tsp. liquid smoke

    • 3 lb. fresh mussels in their shells

    • 9 oz. butter

    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

    • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped

    • 4–6 lemon wedges


  1. Cook the bacon in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat until it renders its fat and is brown and crisp, about 6 minutes. Add the andouille and cook about 6 minutes more, until the sausage is nicely browned.

  2. Add the Fresno chiles, garlic, and shallots and cook for 2 minutes more, until the vegetables start to soften. Add the bourbon and use it to deglaze the pan for 2 to 3 minutes, until the alcohol has burned off. Add the tomatoes, crushed red pepper, and liquid smoke, bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer.

  3. Add the mussels, cover the pan, and steam for 5 to 7 minutes, until the shells open. Once they have opened, add the butter to the sauce and stir to incorporate it. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish each serving with parsley and serve with a fresh lemon wedge.

Recipe excerpted from Northern Soul: Southern-Inspired Home Cooking from a Northern Kitchen by Justin Sutherland.