Fresh Is Best
Fresh mussels are a delicious foodstuff, incredibly quick and easy to cook at home in your kitchen. Unfortunately, there are a few hazards associated with collecting, preparing and cooking fresh mussels of which it is essential you take full account. This page is devoted to looking at tips for collecting fresh mussels, preparing them and cooking them to ensure you enjoy them at their very best. If you are in the fortunate position to have shoreline access to fresh mussels, or even a supermarket or fishmonger's where they can be purchased, why not get a hold of some—by whichever method—and follow these logical steps to enjoy a thoroughly tasty eating experience?
Important Tips for Collecting Fresh Mussels: Safety First!
Collecting mussels, either for fishing bait or for food, is the best way of ensuring that the mussels you get are as fresh and pristine as possible. There are a number of factors which you have to take into account, however, when contemplating collecting mussels, for a variety of vitally important safety and ecological reasons.
- Be sure that the waters in the area from which you intend to collect the mussels are clean. It may be obvious that mussels should not be collected from near a busy, working harbour but it is also important to take into account potential hazards such as sewage pipe outlets. You may have to do some quality research in this respect from local tourist authorities or perhaps fishing tackle shops.
- In many areas, collecting fresh mussels from the rocks will only be possible at lower stages of the tide. Make sure in these instances that you know not only the tide times but the tide patterns. Getting cut off by a flooding tide behind you is a very real possibility in a lot of coastal areas and can of course be a fatal mistake.
- Remember that the areas from which you are collecting fresh mussels may not only be rocky but covered in weed. This will make them treacherously slippery. Make sure you are wearing appropriate footwear, tread carefully and do not take unnecessary risks.
- It should be possible to prise mussels from the rocks by hand. Resist the temptation to smash them off (unless they are only to be used immediately as fishing bait) as damaging the shells will kill the mussels and render them quickly inedible.
- Please practice environmentally friendly collection. Take only the mussels you need for bait or your cooking pot and resist the possible temptation to collect a quantity that you don't need, simply because they are there and available.
- When you have collected your mussels, you will want to get them home in the best condition possible. An excellent way of transporting them is loosely wrapped in some thick, seawater-soaked cloth and stored in an open bucket. They can also be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in cloth in this way for a couple of days but you should ideally cook and eat them as soon as possible.
How to Clean Mussels and Prepare Them for Cooking
If you buy your fresh, live mussels from a fishmonger or supermarket, the chances are that the barnacles, beard and other potential attachments will already have been removed. Where you have collected the mussels yourself, however, this is a job you are going to have to undertake when you get home. Just like cleaning any type of fish or shellfish, there are a few tricks which will not only help make the job easier but ensure you are less likely to damage the mussels in preparation.
The beard of mussels is a fibrous attachment, protruding from one side of the shell. It is important to remove the beard correctly to avoid damaging and potentially killing the mussel. Hold the mussel tightly in your weaker hand and grab hold of the beard with the fingers of your stronger hand. Pull it firmly towards the narrow, hinged end of the mussel and it should fairly easily come free.
It is possible that there will not be any barnacles (shells of smaller organisms) attached to your mussels but where they are present, they should be removed prior to cooking. This can sometimes be achieved by brushing vigorously with a stiff bristled or wire brush but more stubborn attachments will have to be scraped off with a short, sturdy-bladed knife. If using a knife, do be sure to protect your hand while holding the mussels. This can be achieved by folding a towel to provide thick protection but ideally, you should use one of the specially manufactured, cut-resistant gloves, designed for cleaning and opening shellfish.
Although lengthy exposure to fresh water will kill mussels, you may want to steep them in it for fifteen minutes only prior to cooking. This actually causes them to expel sand and other impurities from inside their shells. Very importantly, however, be sure to lift the mussels out of the water at the end of this period and not strain them, as all the impurities will be at the bottom of the bowl and straining would simply cause them to be poured back over the mussels.
Mussel-Cleaning Photo Guide
How to Steam and Prepare Fresh Mussels
Shellfish of most types are very delicate, both in texture and flavour. This means that they must be cooked very carefully and not overwhelmed by an excessive variety of flavourants. Steaming mussels is an excellent way of cooking them to perfection and takes literally only a few minutes. In this instance, about twenty mussels were cooked to serve two as a meal starter.
Before starting to cook, ensure that all the mussel shells are closed. If not, lightly tap them on a hard surface, and where they still fail to close, discard them immediately as they are dead and unsafe to eat.
Peel and finely chop one small shallot. Roughly chop a small bunch of parsley. It is important not to add too much liquid to your cooking pot as it is the steam which should cook the mussels. In this instance, one cup each of water and white wine covered the base of the pot to just around half an inch. Add the shallot and parsley, very lightly season with salt and pepper and bring to a rapid boil.
Pour the mussels into the pot and put the lid on, keeping it on a high heat to create as much steam as possible. Gently shake the pot to evenly distribute the mussels. Cook for around two to three minutes only, until the mussel shells have opened. Any which do not open are dead and must never be eaten.
Use a large slotted spoon to transfer the mussels—in their shells—to serving plates. Spoon over a little of the liquid and garnish with a little more parsley only, if desired. Serve the mussels, which should be eaten by pulling the shells apart and using the empty half in each instance as a spoon to free and eat the flesh.
Steaming and Preparing Mussels Photo Guide
How Do You Like to Cook and Eat Fresh Mussels?
This page provides only one suggestion for cooking fresh mussels. They are equally delicious cooked in a smoker, or perhaps even in a wet hessian sackcloth in a beach fire pit.
Thank you for visiting and for reading and if you have any tips or suggestions for cooking mussels, why not share them in the space below?
© 2012 Gordon Hamilton