Mussels are a good ingredient to know how to cook – they have the luxury factor of seafood but at a fraction of the price of clams or scallops. They belong to the bivalve family of shellfish, which means they have a hinged shell that opens like oysters, scallops and clams.
Mussels are found all over the world and they work well with a versatile list of ingredients from classic creamy French sauces to vibrant spicy curries. Like all shellfish, mussels need to be eaten exceptionally fresh and do need a bit of washing and preparation before cooking.
Once you've mastered the skills, check out our mussels recipe collection for more delicious inspiration.
Choosing and buying mussels
You can buy mussels already cooked and vacuum-packed in a sauce, or cooked and frozen. What we’re talking about here are fresh mussels.
Mussels must be alive to ensure their freshness and their shells should be closed to make sure they are alive. If any are open, they should close when tapped or squeezed. When looking at a big batch in the fishmongers, avoid buying them if lots are open.
Other indications of freshness:
- They should smell pleasantly of the sea, avoid any that smell fishy.
- If there is a choice, always choose smaller mussels over larger ones, as smaller ones are sweeter and more succulent.
- If you're adding mussels to a dish with other seafood or with pasta, then a large handful or two per person will be enough. If mussels are the main part of the recipe as in a bowl of steamed mussels then you’ll need about 500g per person.
Storing and preparing mussels
Ideally, you want to prepare and cook the mussels as soon after buying as possible, but as long as they're fresh they will keep overnight and for up to a day. Store them in a dry bowl or container covered with a damp tea towel. Never cover with a lid or clingfilm as they will suffocate.
To prepare the mussels for cooking:
- Rinse them under cold running water, tossing them over with your hands to give any that may have opened a chance to close.
- Scrub away any barnicles if you want, but this isn't essential.
- One-by-one, pinch and tug away the stringy thread from the side of the shell known as the ‘beard’. Not all muscles have beards so if you can’t find one, don’t worry.
- If the mussels are open, give them a squeeze and discard any that remain open or any with a broken shell.
It’s best to store, then prepare the mussels before cooking, rather then prepare and store ready for cooking.
Watch our video on preparing and cooking mussels:
How to steam mussels
- 1kg of prepared mussels
- small glass of white wine
- 1 large shallot or small onion, finely chopped
- small bunch of parsley, chopped
- Tip the mussels into a large pan with a tight-fitting lid. The pan should be no more than half full.
- Add the wine and chopped shallot.
- Set the pan over a high heat and cover tightly the lid.
- When the pan starts to steam, cook the mussels for 3-4 mins, shaking the pan from time to time.
- They are cooked when the shells have opened.
- Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle with chopped parsley
- Spoon them into warmed bowls and pour over the pan juices.
Can you eat unopened mussels?
The advice in the past has always been to throw away any mussels that haven’t opened after cooking because they are bad. This isn’t true and any mussel that can be easily opened is fine to eat. If the mussel is very tightly closed then it will probably still be a little raw and unpleasant to eat – all this opening is hard work so if you’ve got plenty to eat and one or two are still closed, there’s nothing wrong with discarding and moving on to the next.
Top 5 mussels recipes
1. Mussels steamed with cider & bacon
This easy one-pot supper gives a delicious British twist to a French classic. Swap your wine for a punchy cider and whip up this deceptively simply dish. A dollop of crème fraîche in the mix gives it a silky smooth texture. Serve with crusty bread for mopping up the sauce.
2. Goan mussels
Our Goan mussels proves how well this magnificent shellfish goes with warming spices. This quick and aromatic curry is ideal for a family dinner. It's also adaptable – try adding prawns to the coconut milk or throw in some clams instead.
3. Normandy fish stew
Pass the bread! Mussels bulk out our Normandy fish stew and add depth of flavour to this creamy bowl of comfort food. Try serving with waxy boiled potatoes for a simple supper. It takes just ten minutes to prepare, so there's no need to stress in the kitchen.
4. Tagliatelle with mussels & crème fraîche
This easy tagliatelle recipe proves just how well seafood and pasta work together. You're just two steps away from a steaming bowl of classic seafood flavours. You can't beat a creamy, garlicky sauce finished with a few fresh herbs.
5. Mussels with chorizo, beans & cavolo nero
Pair mussels with some bold Spanish flavours for a winning dinner for two. Spicy chorizo and mellow cannellini beans make a tasty combination you can serve up in just 25 minutes.
Enjoyed these recipes? Check out even more shellfish inspiration...
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