Tips to Keep Mussels in Perfect Shape
Nothing captures the essence of the ocean like a fresh bowl of steamed mussels. These bivalves cook up tender and the briny cooking liquid is the perfect place to dip crusty bread. Plus you can whip up a batch for simple weeknight dinner in 15 minutes. Now that's what I call fast food!
Most mussels are farm raised along the Puget Sound or Canada's Prince Edward Island. Avoid purchasing mussels that hail from China as they have traveled long distances and China's farm raising practices are questionable.
While rope cultivated mussels are a bit more expensive, they're less gritty than those grown along the sea floor. Do not buy mussels labeled "wild caught" because they are harvested by dragging the sea floor and this disrupts the ocean's fragile ecosystem. They're also extremely gritty and full of sand.
Here are some tips to keep your mussels in tip top shape:
Look for tags, usually attached to the bag, that indicate how and where the mussels are grown. The fresher, the better! According to my fishmonger at Whole Foods, mussels should be kept on ice at the store rather than submerged in water, so look for locations that use this practice. The shells should not be cracked or broken.
At home, put your mussels in a bowl and cover them with a wet paper towel to keep them damp. Store them in the refrigerator on a bottom shelf close to the back. Do not store the mussels in water or on ice since the mussels can die if submerged in tap water.
Mussels are best when cooked the same day. The less time they spend in your fridge, the better they'll taste. When you're ready to use them, give the mussels a quick rinse with cold water to remove any extra sand.
Most mussels need to be debearded. Look for the rope-like protrusion coming from the shell. These filaments connect the mussel to rocks or ropes. Grasp the beard between a pairing knife and your thumb. Gently wiggle the filament back and forth until it comes out of the shell. While you certainly can leave the beards on, it's much harder to remove them once the mussels are cooked.
Smell your mussels. They should smell briny and fresh. Look them over. If any are open, tap them lightly on the counter or press together the shell. If the mussel closes by itself, it's safe to eat. If it remains open, it's best to discard.
Personally, I like my mussels simply steamed (link to steamed mussel recipe and/or video). But they can be grilled, sautéed, baked, smoked, and tossed into salad, pasta, soup and stir frys. Make sure you discard any mussels that don't open.
Happy -- and healthy -- cooking!