Once regarded as the poor relation of the shellfish family because of their small size and relative abundance, mussels are now very popular and fairly cheap.
The most common Blue or European mussels have sleek, shiny shells and tender, nutritious flesh. Like oysters, they are indiscriminate feeders and must be gathered from unpolluted waters. It is because of this that most mussels that you find in supermarkets and fishmongers are farmed.
You can buy mussels in their shells year-round from the chiller cabinet, or, ready shelled versions come frozen, smoked and bottled in brine or vinegar.
Choose the best
Try not to choose mussels that have chipped, broken or damaged shells. Fresh mussels tend to be tightly closed. Allow about 500g per person for a main meal, and half that amount for a starter, or if they are to be added to pasta or soup.
To clean mussels, scrub in plenty of cold water to remove barnacles or sand. Discard any that float to the top. Give any open mussels a sharp tap with a knife and discard any that fail to close (they are dead). Remove the 'beard' - a fibrous clump of hairs that sprouts from the shell - by giving it a sharp tug towards the hinge end of the mussel. Place cleaned mussels in a fresh bowl of cold water until ready to use. Change this water two or three times to remove any salt or sand that the mussels may expel.
Mussels are highly perishable and should be eaten on the day of purchase.
Try clam, oyster or cockle.