How To Prepare Fresh Mussels
Can you believe that Americans once considered mussels to be trash? It's hard to believe, especially since these bivalves are considered a delicacy now. Their sweet taste makes them one of the most appealing shellfish around -- and the best part is they're much less expensive than many other seafoods, like crab, lobster or even clams.
If you haven't already cooked with mussels at home, we highly recommend doing so. There are many ways to enjoy them -- just see the list of recipes below the videos for ideas. The flavors can be varied to your individual tastes or enjoy them au naturale, simply steamed in their own juices. Whichever way you choose to cook them, you can't go wrong.
Here's a guide to familiarize yourself with preparing mussels.
There are many varieties of mussels throughout the world, but the two main varieties are blue and green-lipped. Blue mussels are found in the United States and green-lipped mussels in the South Pacific. But typically you will only see blue mussels Stateside. But if you do find a different variety of mussels, know that either kind can be interchanged in recipes.
In the supermarket or fish market you'll find mussels sold either loose or in net bags, which contain about 2 to 3 pounds of mussels. Look for mussels that are glossy with shells that are tightly closed. Buy mussels the same day you intend to cook them.
When you get your mussels home, transfer them to a bowl and cover loosely with a wet towel or wet newspaper -- you want to keep the mussels moist while also giving them some air. Store the mussels in the coolest part of your refrigerator, but cook them the same day. Don't clean them until you're ready to cook with them.
Cleaning and Debearding Mussels
Most mussels are cultivated (i.e. farmed) and are less likely to have sand and grit in them, compared to wild mussels. In the rare case that you do buy wild mussels, you need to get the grit out -- they need to be soaked in a bowl of cold water for about 20 minutes, and then drained. For cultivated mussels, you can skip the soaking process, but if your picky go ahead and soak them anyway. For both types, scrub the mussels under cold, running water and remove the beards (the bristly material sticking out from one side) by pulling down toward the hinge of the shell and outward. Use a towel for leverage -- mussels hold onto their beards pretty tightly so you might find yourself wrestling with them.
If the mussel shell is slightly open, tap it with a knife to see if it closes. If it does not close, chuck it -- the mussel is dead. If a mussel feels really heavy for its size, more than likely it's filled with mud -- chuck it. If a mussel has a hole or a cracked shell -- chuck it.
Cooking Methods for Mussels
The classic method for cooking mussels is steaming them. Mussels contain a small amount of liquid/moisture, so steaming doesn't require the addition of any extra liquid. But typically a small amount of liquid (water, stock, wine, beer) can be added to a hot pan before adding your mussels. Cover tightly with a lid and check back in 5 minutes. The mussels should open between 5 and 7 minutes. Once open, they're cooked and ready to eat. Mussels that don't open should be chucked -- they're dead.
Enjoy your mussels as an appetizer or main course. If you're enjoying them as a main course, count on 1 pound of mussels per person (typically, mussels are sold in 2- to 3-pound bags, so make sure you buy the amount you'll need). You can enjoy mussels as they are with a chunk of bread or tossed with pasta. Or eat mussels like the Belgians do, with fries. Chilled, cooked mussels can be served on the half-shell, topped with a sauce, as an appetizer.
To eat, use a small cocktail fork to pick the meat from the shell of each mussel or follow the instructions in video #3 below to eat mussels using a unique method where you pluck the meat using an empty shell as a tweezer.
Watch the videos below to learn more on how to clean, cook, and eat mussels.
What's your favorite way to enjoy mussels? Leave a comment.
Mussels Steamed in Pale Ale
Yeo's Garlic Mussels
Mussels Grilled on Pine Needles
Grilled Mussels with Salsa Verde
Steamed Mussels in Tomato Broth
Mussels Stewed with Apple and Fennel
Spanish Tapas-Inspired Mussels
Thai Red Curry Mussels
Mussels South of Two Borders
Italian Mussels and Pasta
Quick Paella with Shrimp and Mussels
Mussel Chowder with Vegetables