Cooking with Mussels

Cooking with Mussels

A bivalve mollusk (like clams, oysters and scallops), mussels come in many different species. The two most common varieties are blue-black mussels, found along the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean coasts, and the less-common New Zealand green mussels, imported from New Zealand. The two varieties have a similar flavor, but the green ones are a bit larger and more expensive.

When buying live mussels, tap the shells. They should snap shut, indicating that the mussel is still alive. Avoid mussels with broken shells. Note that smaller mussels are usually more tender than larger ones. When presented with the choice to choose between wild and farm-raised, there is somewhat of a trade-off between taste and texture. Some people prefer the flavor of wild mussels, but the cleaner farm-raised ones are easier on the teeth because they usually contain less grit.

To store, place live mussels in a single layer on a tray and cover with a damp cloth. Refrigerate for up to 2 days. Discard any dead mussels before using (they will feel lighter than the others). Whenever scrubbings are required, use a stiff brush and scrub the mussels under cool running water. Yank off the mossy-looking "beard" from each mussel and rinse again. To effectively rid the mussels of sand, soak them in cool, salted water for about 1 hour (3/4 cup salt per gallon of water). This will cause them to spit out all the sand and mud.

Steaming is one of a great way to remove mussels. Although you can pry open mussels with a paring knife or an oyster knife, it is easiest to steam them open. Place the mussels in a large pan and add about 1/2 cup water. Cover and steam over high heat until they open, about 3 minutes. Usually, the ones that do not open are either dead of filled with mud. But sometimes they are just stubborn. so it is worth trying to gently pry them open and check the unopened ones before discarding.

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