Mussels 101 and a Yummy Recipe

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Mussels. What does that word mean to you? Expensive? Unfamiliar? Too difficult to cook?

Mussels (or other bivalves, including clams) were not something I cooked early on in my food career. I hadn’t a clue as to how to store or cook mussels. And those little fuzzy beards hanging on? I couldn’t even go there! 

But I soldiered on, and found out that yes, mussels are easy and quick to cook, and are at home on the supper table or for entertaining. 

Fresh seafood is often a good buy during Lent.

Here’s tips if you’re a mussel newbie. The main thing to remember about mussels is that they are alive. Raw, their shells should be closed. Cooked, they should be open. Details below.

And, of course, a yummy recipe. 

Mussels 101

  1. Fresh mussels are alive and have closed shells. Remove from package. Place in bowl, cover completely with moist kitchen towel, and refrigerate up to a day or bit later. Dampen towel if it dries out.(They need air so don’t cover with water or seal in plastic bag).
  2. Mussels will be pretty clean from grit, but right before cooking, give them a quick rinse. Put mussels in colander. Pour cold water over, and shake to rinse.
    Scrape off dirt and check for beards – a furry little piece attached. Cut/tug out with knife. Most come de-bearded.
  3. Important: Any mussel not closed, or which doesn’t close with a good tap, should be tossed out. An open mussel prior to cooking is a dead mussel. Though this is a rare occurrence, it’s not something you should eat. 
  4. Cook mussels in an aromatic liquid. They cook through steaming. 
  5. Conversely, after cooking, mussels should open up. Take a and stir it around in pan, which will open any mussels that need coaxing. Any that refuse to open should be discarded, but again, this is not a common occurrence. 

OK, now that you’ve got the basics, try this recipe.

Mussels steamed in wine and herbs

Good with crusty bread to sop up juices, or on top of linguine. 


2 pounds cleaned mussels

Olive oil 

Butter – a couple tablespoons 

2 shallots, minced

2 tablespoons garlic, minced or to taste

1 generous cup dry white wine or more if needed

Garnish: optional but good


Chopped tomatoes

Romano/Parmesan cheese 


Put large pot on medium heat.

Film bottom with oil. Add butter.

Add shallots and half the garlic. Cook a couple of minutes, don’t let garlic brown. Add mussels and turn heat to high. Stir to coat, add rest of garlic, and wine. 

Turn heat to simmer. Put lid on so mussels can steam. After 6 minutes or so, open lid, give mussels a stir and put lid back on.

After a few more minutes, check to see if mussels are done. They’re cooked when they open up. Some will be wide open; others not so much. If there’s any unopened, give them another stir to nudge open. Discard any that still don’t open.  Season with salt and pepper, place in bowls with broth, and garnish.

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