Chef Notes: Mussels

Chef Notes: Mussels

I came to love mussels when I moved to New England.  I started slowly, first I would only sop up whatever buttery, garlicky broth was left after my fiancé Al had eaten the mussels.  Then I finally got up the nerve to actually try a mussel.  All of those wonderful flavors from the broth combined with the taste of the ocean was addictive.  Mussels are so versatile, easy to prepare, and relatively inexpensive. 

Mussels are filter feeders, meaning they feed on tiny organisms that float through the water.  Although fresh water mussels are technically edible they are not as palatable as marine mussels and it’s unlikely that you will ever see them for sale or on a menu.  It’s important that you buy your mussels from a reputable source and that they are alive.  They will be responsive if alive.  Meaning if their shell is slightly opened and you move or touch them they should close up tightly.  Look for a place that does a lot of business.  You don’t want mussels that have been sitting around in their own excrement for days.  They should appear clean and should have a sweet ocean smell as opposed to a low-tide smell.  You don’t want any with broken shells.

Mussels are served in many ways.  You can: smoke them; grill them; serve them in a broth, marinara or cream sauce; remove them from the shells, bread, and fry them or chop them up and make fritters.  We’ve all seen them in paella, stews, and pasta’s. Don’t be intimidated. Once you’ve handled them once you’ll be looking for ways to use them and you’ll get quick at removing those beards.

After you purchase your mussels get them out of the plastic bag as soon as possible and put them in a perforated pan/strainer over another vessel full of ice. Do not seal up as they need to breath. Discard any mussels with broken shells or that do not close when touched. You should use them within 24-48 hours of purchase. Just before you’re ready to cook rinse them thoroughly with cold water, lightly rubbing the shells to remove any sand.  Then remove the beards by holding the mussel in one hand and with a dry towel over your other hand grab and pull the beard towards the hinged part of the shells.  This only takes a few minutes and it’s something the kids get a kick out of helping with.  If you’re leaving them in their shells you will know they’re done when the shells pop open. Oh, and (as long as you’re not cooking them in a cream sauce) don’t forget to save the shells for stock.  Just throw them in a zip top bag and freeze for later.

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2 Comments

  1. Laura
    August 02, 07:13 Reply

    I have always wanted to try to cook these at home … you’ve given me courage!

  2. Amanda Digges
    August 02, 10:49 Reply

    Hi Laura, that’s fantastic. Please let me know what you try and how it comes out. If you have any questions just give me a shout.

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