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What Are Mussels?
A mussel is a bivalve mollusk of the Mytilidae family with a dark blue-black hinged shell that’s long and oval in shape. Though the majority of mussels enjoyed today are farmed, they’re often found along exposed shores of cold water in intertidal zones around the world, clinging to dock pilings and rocky outcrops in the water. Green mussels can be found in both Asia and New Zealand. Freshwater mussels, though similar in appearance to the conventional navy variety, are a slightly different species, and generally aren’t eaten.
How to Buy the Best Mussels
The glossy heaps of shells you see on ice at grocery stores or seafood markets are live mussels—the best mussels are ones that have tightly shut shells. Any open mussels, or ones roughed up and missing bits of shell, should be discarded before cooking. (The general wisdom on how many mussels to buy usually comes down to a pound per person, but it’s entirely up to you, of course.)
How to Clean and Store Mussels
Store mussels in the mesh bag they came in, wrapped in a damp towel in a bowl in the fridge. To clean them, simply scrub the shells under running water to remove any grit. If your mussels still have a little brown string lining the seam of their shell, they haven’t been fully debearded. Before cooking, you can easily strip it off with a pair of tweezers or your fingernails. If you miss a few, don’t fret: they’re not poisonous, just a bit chewy.
Easy Steamed Mussels Recipe
Prep Time5 min
Total Time15 min
- 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 3–4 garlic cloves (to preference), minced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 pounds mussels, cleaned
- ½ cup vegetable stock or broth
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- Chopped fresh Italian parsley and red pepper flakes, for garnish
- Heat the butter in a large stock pot or deep saucepan over medium heat, then add the shallots and garlic. Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until softened and fragrant.
- Add the mussels, broth, and wine to the pot and cover with a lid. Cook the mussels for 5 minutes, shaking the pot every few minutes to evenly distribute the heat.
- Remove the lid and check for any unopened mussels; if the majority are still closed, cover with the lid for another 2 minutes, then check again. Once most of the shells are open, discard any that have remained closed.
- Transfer to a large serving bowl (don't forget the cooking liquid!), garnished with chopped parsley and red pepper flakes, and serve with crusty bread or French fries, for French moules frites, on the side to soak up the broth. For proper mussel eating etiquette, place a separate bowl on the table for discarding empty shells.