If you haven't made mussels at home, we highly recommend you do so right away. Not only are they so much easier to make than they look, but they're also one of the more affordable seafood options out there -- a bargain compared to lobster and crab. There are many ways to enjoy them -- just take a look at the list of recipes below -- the flavor options are endless. But before you start cooking, there a few things you need to know about preparing this bivalve.
First, it's important to store mussels properly. When you get home with mussels, transfer them to a bowl and cover loosely with a wet towel or wet newspaper -- you want to keep the mussels moist while also giving them some air. Store the mussels in the coolest part of your refrigerator, but cook them the same day. Don't clean them until you're ready to cook with them.
Next, you have to make sure all the mussels are still fresh and alive. (A dead mussel can make you very sick.) This is easy to do -- just tap the shell on a hard surface, and if it closes it's good to eat. If it does nothing, don't take a chance. The same goes if the mussel feels heavy for its size or if it's cracked.
Now, for the cleaning. These days most mussels we buy are cultivated so they're less likely to be full of sand and grit (compared to wild mussels). In the rare case that you do buy wild mussels, they need to be soaked in a bowl of cold water for about 20 minutes, and then drained. (Cultivated mussels can skip the soaking process.) For both types, scrub the mussels under cold, running water and remove the beards (the bristly material sticking out from one side) by pulling down toward the hinge of the shell and outward. Use a towel for leverage -- mussels hold onto their beards fiercely.
This is how it's done.
Then, give it a good scrub.
Finally, they're ready to cook. The classic method for cooking mussels is steaming them. Mussels contain a small amount of liquid, so steaming doesn't require the addition of any extra liquid. But adding a small amount of stock, wine or beer can add great flavor -- add it to a hot pan before tossing in the mussels. Cover tightly with a lid and wait five minutes. The mussels should open between five and seven minutes. Once open, they're cooked and ready to eat. (Mussels that don't open should be chucked.)
Now use this great knowledge and go enjoy yourself a big plate of mussels -- preferably with a side of fries.