I have to admit, I didn't give mussels a second thought until I had a magical dish of clams and mussels steamed in a chardonnay broth with fire roasted tomatoes. Before that, mussels always seemed finicky. You had to clean them. You had to be careful to check that they were alive. I always passed them off as too much work, and just left them out of any recipe that called for them.
Not so much anymore.
Mussels are work to clean, it's true. Lest that scare you off, it's totally worth it in the end. Mussels, known as the "poor man's oyster," are sweet and delicious. And unlike a bony little fish that a waiter once insisted was the poor man's lobster, mussels are easy to eat - just tip them back into your mouth with a little bit of broth, and you'll be happy in no time.
Here's how to get them ready:
While mussels can live for several days at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it's really best to eat them the same day you buy them. The longer you wait, the more will have died, and the more money you'll have wasted. As soon as you get them home from the store, take them out of their packaging, place in a bowl big enough to fit them, and cover with a damp paper towel. You want the mussels to breathe, but also have a little bit of moisture. They're sea creatures, after all.
Soak the mussels in cool water for about 30 minutes. This helps them release any sand or grit they might have been hanging on to. There's nothing worse than gritty seafood, if you ask me. Once they've soaked, sort through them. Throw out any mussels with a broken shell, or that are open and do not close if you rap on their shell lightly with a knife. These are dead. You want the mussels to have tightly closed shells that do not budge when you try to slide the two sides of the shell against each other.
Next, scrub the shells under running water to remove any remaining grit.
Just before you are ready to cook the mussels, debeard them. The beard is a little stringy thing hanging out of the side of the shell. Not all mussels will have them. They're not inedible, so it's okay if you don't get every last string, but they don't taste that great, so you want to remove as much as you can. Remove them by tugging side to side a little and yanking them out. I usually use a pair of tweezers to help me with this, but you can use your fingers too.
Now the mussels are ready to cook! The basic recipe for cooking mussels on the stovetop is to drop them into simmering liquid, cover, shake the pan, and leave the whole thing alone for 5-7 minutes. Check to make sure the mussels have opened up, simmer for a little longer if they haven't. Once it's all done, discard any mussels that didn't open up, and enjoy.
In my most humble opinion, the best way to enjoy mussels is cooked in wine and butter, because that's how I fell in love with them, after all. Recipes like this one form the basis of what I'm doing, but honestly? I usually just wing it.
Mussels in a wine broth are excellent paired with hearty (gluten-free) toast smeared with butter and roasted garlic.
Don't love mussels already? Give 'em a shot. You might just be glad you did.