Preparing mussels sounds a little bit intimidating, but they are actually really easy to make once you get the hang of it.
STORING THE MUSSELS:
Mussels are alive, and you want them alive when you cook them.
- When you get the fresh mussels home, unwrap them from any plastic wrap and put them in bowl in a colder area of the refrigerator covered by a damp (not wet) cloth, unless you are planning to prepare them right away. You can alternately place them in a colander with ice instead of a bowl, but keep in mind the colander should allow ice to drain off as it melts, so that the mussels don’t drown.
- Plan to eat them the same day you get them, and don’t clean and prepare them until you are ready to cook them.
TESTING THE MUSSELS:
Start out by checking which of the mussels are good (there are usually some that are bad). They should smell fresh and briny like the ocean and beach, but not have a strong fishy smell.
- Squeeze the open mussels with your fingers or tap the ones that are open against the counter. They should close by themselves, and although some might close slowly, they are still good and alive. If they do not close, throw them out.
- Discard all mussels that have broken shells or an unpleasant odor, as well as any that feel unusually heavy or light compared to the rest.
- Aside from that, keep all the mussels that are closed, as they are good to eat.
CLEANING THE MUSSELS:
It is a common misconception that you should soak the mussels in freshwater for an hour to purge them from any grit, but this will actually kill them, as they can’t handle the freshwater. If you buy farmed mussels (such as from Prince Edward Island, or PEI), then grit should not be a significant issue. However, if you purchase wild mussels, you should soak them in cold water (in the refrigerator is fine) with a generous amount of salt added for not much longer than 20 minutes, to allow the grit to purge out of the mussels.
- Under cool running water, clean the mussels by scrubbing the shells clean with help of a brush or rub them all at the same time a little hard handed against each other.
- Trim the “beard” (the stringy portion) from the side of the shell, or yank it off by tearing towards the small hinge of the shell (the direction of the tear is important to keep from killing them).
COOKING THE MUSSELS:
- In a sauté pan (on high heat) big enough to hold all the mussels in one layer, add the mussels and liquid (check your recipe).
- Cover and steam over medium heat until almost all the mussels have opened. It is very important to not overcook the mussels, as they become dry, pale and shrunken. They need only a few minutes – just enough to open the shells. The bright orange color is a good sign that they are cooked enough.
- Strain the liquid and set it aside. Put the mussels in a container with a lid to keep them from drying out.
- Although they are best to eat fresh, you can save the cooked mussels for up to 3 days in the refrigerator if you keep them in the container with the liquid. Remember to let the liquid cool off so they don’t keep cooking in the container.
* I have always been told to not eat the mussels that are closed after cooking, and this remains a debated issue. Current research indicates that this is a myth, and that these mussels can be pried open and safely eaten, but some people prefer to discard them anyway. To be on the safe side, if a mussel has a very obvious unusual look, smell, taste, or consistency after cooking, it is best to let that one go.