Several Great Ways For Cooking Mussels
If you haven't tried cooking mussels before, and you like shellfish or seafood, you should definitely give it a try. When thinking of shellfish, it's more often than not clams or oysters which come to mind, or shrimp, prawns or lobsters. Mussels definitely have a role to play in fine seafood recipes, a few of which we'll share here.
There are freshwater and saltwater mussels, though most recipes for cooking mussels most often involve the saltwater types. Part of the reason for this is that many mussel dishes, such as bouillabaisse or cioppino, include a variety of salt water shellfish in addition to mussels. Most of the mussels we eat live in inter tidal areas and can often easily be harvested from docks and pilings at low tide. Mussels are filter feeders, feeding largely on plankton, and in general do not eat anything harmful that would affect anything further up the food chain, including humans. One exception to this is when the mussels may ingest toxic planktonic organisms which, while not affecting the mussels, can be extremely toxic to humans. This is the so-called "red tide" which often occurs during the summer months, especially along the Pacific coast. Mussels, and some other shellfish as well, such as clams, should not be harvested when a red tide is present, or generally speaking, during the warmer summer months.
Cleaning mussels prior to cooking usually involves scrubbing the shells with a stiff brush to remove seaweed, grit, and barnacles, and removing the beard, the hairs which the mussel uses to attach itself to objects such as pilings. The mussels can be rinsed in fresh water, but saltwater mussels should not be kept in fresh water as it will kill them. When you cook mussels you want to be cooking live mussels. A live mussel will generally close its shell tightly when gently tapped. If it does not, it is dead and should be discarded. A closed mussel that is unusually heavy is probably a shell that is full of sand, not mussel, and should also be discarded.
Cooking Mussels By Steaming - Steaming is usually the preferred method of cooking mussels. They will cook mainly in their own juices, and by adding just a little water, you'll end up with a nice shellfish broth. Many cooks like to use white wine instead of water when steaming mussels. The mussels will usually open up, a sign that they have cooked, within about 5 minutes. They won't necessarily open up all at once, so you might have to pick them out one at a time when they open, so none will over cook. Discard mussels that don't open, usually a small minority.
Baking Mussels - When you bake mussels, you are usually adding something to the mussel meat, such as salt, pepper, garlic, or olive oil. In cooking mussels this way, they are steamed first, and once the shells open, are placed in a pan to be put in the oven. Salt, pepper, etc., is then added and the mussels are baked for no more than 10 minutes.
You can of course cook mussels by simply boiling them, but in doing so you loose all of the juices and broth, and don't end up with as tasty a dish. One way around this, if you insist on boiling them, is to boil them in an already prepared broth. This is an appropriate method if the mussels are not to be served individually, but as part of a seafood stew.
Several Tasty Dishes - Mussels are very good eating in combination with angel hair pasta, even better in the company of clams, shrimp, and scallops. Another great dish can be made by looking in a French cookbook for a recipe for bouillabaisse, a traditional fish stew. It's a joy fishing through the stew to find bits and pieces of crab, scallops, together with clams and mussels still in the shell. Wear a bib!
Closely related to bouillabaisse, is the Italian fish stew known as ciopinno. This is another stew containing a little bit if everything from the sea, seasoned with various herbs. If you don't want to take the time to make a stew, simple try cooking mussels in tomato sauce with a little garlic. Add a few shallots to make this dish even more delicious. The Spanish like to prepare their mussels on saffron-scented rice, together with other fish or shellfish. You can also serve mussels as appetizers, either prepared in the half shell or wrapped in foil with curry butter, and placed on the grill.