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How to Prepare and Cook Mussels

By: Margaret Paxton - Updated: 29 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
How To Prepare And Cook Mussels

Mussels are seafood molluscs that should be eaten fresh and cooked alive. Alternatively, use shelled and frozen or canned mussels (or clams.) Farmed ‘bouchots’ are small tender mussels. Traditionally served in a variety of different sauces, mussels need careful, but not especially time-consuming, preparation.

Cleaning Live Mussels

If you have collected the mussels yourself put them in a bucket of sea water as soon as possible and add a handful of oatmeal or flour to the water. Live mussels will feed on this and it cleanses their stomachs of sand and grit before cooking them. Fishmongers will have done this prior to selling them.

Discard any mussels that have broken shells or float to the surface of the bucket. If a mussel has an open shell and it fails to shut as soon as you tap it, discard it.

Scrub the shells with a stiff brush to get rid of any grit. Use a small sharp knife to scrape away barnacles and pull off the straggly seaweed-type ‘beards’ that may protrude from the shell-these are the mussels anchor threads. Use scissors if preferred. Rinse thoroughly several times under a cold tap.

Opening Live Mussels

If you need to open a live mussel, clean as before, then place in a folded napkin on a firm non-slip surface with the flatter shell uppermost. Holding the mussel down with one hand, insert the tip of an oyster knife between the shell halves and lever along the shell edge to sever the hinge. Open the shell and cut out the mussel but take care to keep the liquid for your sauce.

Mussels in White Wine

  • 1.75kg mussels to serve 4
  • 4 shallots finely chopped
  • 350ml dry white wine
  • 150g butter
  • 150g fresh chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • black pepper

Place the shallots, parsley, 100g of butter, white wine, twist of black pepper and mussels in a large heavy based pan. Cover and cook over high heat for a few minutes, give the pan several shakes to ensure even cooking. As soon as all the mussels have opened transfer to a hot serving dish. Discard any broken or unopened mussels.

Strain the liquid into an uncovered smaller pan over high heat. Allow the liquid to reduce by one-third then remove from the heat and add the remaining butter-cut into chunks. Whisk until the sauce thickens and froths, then add the lemon juice, whisk again and pour over the hot mussels. Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Mussel and Potato Bake

Preheat the oven to 180C.

  • 1.75kg mussels
  • 250ml water
  • 225g potatoes
  • 225g tomatoes skinned and sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • bunch of fresh basil leaves
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper to season

Prepare the mussels as described then place them in a saucepan with the water and heat. Lift them out as soon as they open. Discard inedible mussels, as before, and remove the empty half shells, leaving the cooked mussels in the other halves. Reserve liquid in the pan and strain it through kitchen paper to get rid of any sand or bits of shell.

Cook the potatoes, whole, in boiling salted water until cooked but still firm then, drain peel and slice fairly thinly.

Pour about half of the olive oil into a shallow ovenproof dish and swill it about to coat the bottom. Place the potatoes in to form a layer top with the mussels in half shells. Scatter garlic and torn pieces of basil leaves over, then, cover with a layer of sliced tomatoes.

Now add the breadcrumbs and a shake of black pepper along with any juice reserved from the mussel pan. Sprinkle the rest of the olive oil over and bake for 20 minutes to soften the tomatoes and colour the breadcrumbs. Serve.

Mussels with Pasta

Pasta shells or spaghetti with a mussel sauce makes a great supper dish for garlic lovers!

  • 1.5kg prepared mussels
  • 250ml dry white wine
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 onions peeled and chopped
  • 300mls double cream
  • 115g butter
  • Pasta of your choice

Cook the mussels with the wine and one chopped onion. Remove pan from heat and lift out mussels but keep the liquid.

Melt the butter and gently fry the other onion, then add the garlic and liquid from the mussel pan. Stir. Now add the cream and parsley, slowly, stirring the whole time. Season with salt and pepper then increase the heat to simmering point.

Cook the pasta.

Remove all but a few mussels from their shells and add them to the cream sauce. Place the cooked, drained pasta in a pre-heated serving dish and add the mussels in sauce to this. Garnish with a few cooked mussels still in their shells. Serve.

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