What are mussels?

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 to buy.

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's because of this that most mussels sold in supermarkets and fishmongers are farmed.

Read more about responsible fishing at Seafish and Marine Stewardship Council.

Watch our video on how to clean, prepare and cook mussels:

When are mussels in season?

Peak season for fresh mussels is October to March.

You can buy mussels in their shells year round. You can also buy them shelled – these are frozen, smoked or bottled in brine or vinegar.

Choose the best mussels

Avoid mussels that are chipped, broken or have 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 for use in pastas or soups.

How to prepare mussels

Scrub mussels in 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.

See our collection of mussels recipes.

How to store mussels

Mussels are highly perishable and should be eaten on the day of purchase.

Alternatives to mussels

Try clams, oysters or cockles.