You have probably walked past the seafood section of your local grocer plenty of times and see these little guys hanging out on their icy throne. You look at them, ponder the possibilities and then pick something safe, like a tuna steak or salmon filet. For some reason, most people consider these little creatures, closed tightly in their shells, intimidating and think they are only for expensive restaurant tables or the snack trays of fancy parties.
This could not be further from the truth. These tasty little bivalves are packed with nutrients, affordable and simple to prepare as long as you know what to look out for. Best of all, mussels are one of the most sustainable forms of seafood in the world and easy to farm and harvest. This means that you can likely find fresh, live mussels in your area. Whether you are making a tasty appetizer or sitting down with a big bowl for supper, all it takes is a few minutes to have a steaming fresh bowl of deliciousness.
Nutritional Information for Mussels
According to the Mussel Industry Council, these flavorful little sea creatures contain only 129 calories in a serving. Those 129 calories are packed with nutritious vitamins and minerals. Nutrients in 1 three-ounce serving of mussels include:
- Protein – 18 grams
- Iron – 5 milligrams
- Zinc – 2 milligrams
- Vitamin C – 10 milligrams
- Vitamin B12 – 20 micrograms
- Phosphorus – 242 milligrams
- Manganese – 6 milligrams
- Selenium – 76 micrograms
All of these nutrients are available with a scant 47-milligrams of cholesterol and 4 grams of fat. When it comes to proteins, you would be hard pressed to find a more protein with more to offer.
You have decided to give these things a shot. You head to the store, find the seafood counter and look down to see little bags of black shells staring you in the face. No instructions, no sell by date and you could swear that one of them just winked at you.
Fear not. The only fancy equipment you need to find out if the mussels are worth eating are your eyes, fingers and nose. In just seconds, you can find out if you are looking at a delicious plate of seafood or a horrific night of discomfort.
- Check the case. The mussels should be kept cold, preferably on a bed of ice, and allowed plenty of air. They should NEVER be submerged in water.
- Ask to handle a few mussels. If the merchant will not let you, they do not need your money.
- Visually inspect the shell. It should be free from cracks or fractures. An undamaged mussel is a good mussel.
- Smell the mussels. They will be a little smelly. Their shells have been floating around in water with thousands of other mussels for a while. You try hanging around for a few months suspended from a rope with thousands of other people. You would smell too. What we are looking for is smells of bleach or ammonia. Bleach indicates an attempt to cover the smell of decay, while ammonia indicates our little shelled friends have gone to the great mussel farm in the sky. That’s not good.
- Tap an open mussel on the shell. If he’s still alive, kicking and delicious, he will close up his shell at the first sign of trouble.
If the mussels have passed the look-sniff-tap inspection, it is time to buy. Always buy a few more than you need. For every dozen I plan to serve, I pick up two extra. Even in the best cases, you will probably lose a couple or find a few that didn’t make the cut. This is normal, but if you find it happening regularly, you might want to consider a new vendor.
Keeping Mussels Happy
Once you purchase your mussels, the clock is ticking. If you expect to be out for a while after purchasing, you might consider a simple cooler to keep them happy for the trip. A little ice and a towel to keep the standing moisture away is all it takes. When kept in proper conditions, mussels will easily last a couple of days before cooking.
Once you get them at home, give them a similar treatment. I like to keep mine in a large glass bowl and cover them with a damp paper towel. Check in on the towel occasionally and keep the it moist. As long as you follow these steps, you should find your mussels last at least 48 hours. This is plenty of time to cook them up and devour them by the dozen.
Preparing Mussels for Cooking
Once you are ready to cook your mussels, you need to allow about 20 minutes for preparation. The steps are straight-forward and simple.
- Place the mussels in a large bowl of cold water.
- Grab another bowl and fill it with water and set to the side.
- Scrub each mussel with a brush to remove debris and remove any remaining beards. This can be done easily by pulling the beard towards the hinge side of the shell.
- Place the cleaned mussel in the second bowl of water.
- Once you have cleaned the mussels, allow them to sit in the water for about 20 minutes. This will help to clean any grit that might be present on the inside.
- Decide how to cook them.
My Favorite Way to Cook Mussels – Grilling
This basic recipe is delicious, takes just a few minutes and requires no fancy equipment. The mussels are great by themselves or paired with another protein, such as chicken breasts or a hearty steak. To grill mussels, you will need a few things:
- One 9-inch by 13-inch cake pan. Quality is irrelevant. In fact, cheap, thin pans work better.
- One grill, gas or charcoal.
- A long pair of tongs.
Grilled Garlic-Butter Mussels
Things you will need:
- Previously mentioned equipment
- Two pounds of cleaned and soaked mussels
- One-half stick of margarine
- 8 ounces of water
- Three tablespoons of minced garlic
- Three tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
- Large serving bowl
Let’s Start Cookin':
- Preheat the grill to roughly 500 degrees.
- Place the cake pan on the grill and allow it to heat up as well.
- Add water, lemon juice and butter to the pan..
- Stir with tongs until melted and steaming.
- Remove mussels from soaking bowl and spread evenly across the pan.
- Close the lid of the grill and allow to steam for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Flip mussels over using tongs.
- Add minced garlic.
- Close grill and allow to cook for another 3 to 5 minutes.
- Inspect your mussels. When they are done cooking, they should pop open. As mussels open, remove them to the serving bowl.
- When mussels are all in serving bowl, continue to heat the liquid in the cake sheet for five minutes or until the liquid has reduced to a cup or so in volume.
- Using hot mitts, grab pan and pour the liquid over the cooked mussels.
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