Running from the Law: Mussels

Friday, February 19, 2010


Another recipe from Cook Yourself Thin, Faster*! I love muscles...I mean mussels, ok both really. So I decided to make some mussels for my muscle man/husband last night (hi honey!). And they were fabulous (both the mussels and the muscles)! :-) We paired our mussels with a side of crusty Italian bread, a small salad, a crisp white wine and a heavy dose of Olympic spirit. Go USA!

Despite their small size, mussels are a very filling and healthy food. A study at Harvard University found mussels to contain virtually the same amount of protein as T-bone steak. A 6 oz portion of cooked blue mussels contains 40g of protein and only 294 calories. An equal portion of steak contains four times more calories and eighteen times more fat. Mussels are also rich in iron, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, zinc, vitamins C and B12 and contain more essential Omega-3 fatty acids than any other shellfish. How's that for a super food!

As with clams and oysters, mussels must be cooked while they are still alive. A good fishmonger (or your local Whole Foods) will sell them loose or in mesh bags bathed in water and packed in ice. Smell them - they should smell like the sea. Make sure that your supermarkets does NOT polyseal them on trays. These mussels will suffocate in a short time. If you have no choice but to buy mussels this way, poke holes in the plastic even before leaving the store. Fortunately, you can determine if the mussels are alive. The shells of live mussels will be tightly closed. If gaping slightly, they should close if you tap on the shell. If any don’t close, discard them. Never buy mussels that are cracked, chipped or broken.

Store mussels in the bottom of your refrigerator, covered with a damp cloth or wrapped in wet newspaper. They are best cooked the same day, but will keep, refrigerated/iced at 40 degrees, for 5-8 days. The double check as to whether they were alive comes after they are steamed: if they fail to open, throw them out.

(*I've slightly modified this recipe for my liking.)

2 pounds live mussels in shells
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 cup white wine
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt (I added a little more)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tomatoes, cut in chunks
2 tablespoons heavy cream (I might have added a little more)
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Loaf of crusty bread

1. Rinse the mussels and pull off any "beard" - the stringy bits. Discard any mussels that have opened (they're not safe to eat).
2. In a large heavy pot over medium heat, add the oil, garlic and fennel and saute until the fennel is translucent (about 5 to 7 minutes). Add the wine, water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, herbs and tomatoes and bring to a boil.
3. Add mussels, cover and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring midway through to ensure even cooking. Mussels should all be open...if not cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes. If a mussel fails to open, discard it and do not pry it open to eat it.
4. Stir in heavy cream and pepper. Toss. Taste broth and add additional salt (or garlic salt) if needed.
5. Divide the mussels and broth into large bowls and serve with warm crusty bread (for dipping in the broth) and a lemon wedge.

Tips for Cleaning & De-Bearding Mussels:
- You want to get rid of as much sand as possible.
- Soak the mussels in cool fresh water for 20-30 minutes before cooking. The mussels will expel most of the sand inside the shell as the “breathe.” Then with your hands or a firm brush, clean the mussels under running water.
- Some mussels may have a “beard,” a small web of vegetative matter with which the mussel clings to the rocks. Wait to de-beard the mussels until just before cooking. When you’re ready, the beard is easily removed by gripping it and giving it good tug towards the hinge edge of the shell. If it’s stubborn, you may need to use a knife or kitchen scissors.

How to Eat a Mussel:
During law school, I spent a month in Brussels, Belgium (the mussel capital of the world), eating mussels every chance I could get. Not only did I quickly become a mussel connoisseur, but I quickly adopted the "correct technique" for eating mussels. PUT YOUR FORK DOWN! There is a right better way to do it.**

Because of the way it is hinged, an empty mussel shell makes a handy implement for eating mussels with. Empty one hinged mussel shell, and then use it to simply pick the other mussels out of their shells by pinching them with end of the empty shell, and then pop them in your mouth. Discard empty shells in a separate bowl.

**I strictly enforce this rule upon anyone I eat mussels with and will viciously mock your lack of mussel etiquette if you eat them with a fork! DON'T DO IT! Be cool and euro - use the shell. :)

Check out a video of how to properly eat mussels using the shell, click HERE.


  1. Wow, all of that looked very complicated, but delicious! Now that I think of it, I don't know if I've ever eaten mussels?

  2. This is a great recipe! I love eating mussells but haven't tried to cook them myself.

  3. Those are great tips! I didn't even know them! Now I am dying to try this recipe. I'm in night class right now (on break, duh) so I had to check out your blog. Now I'm craving a glass of wine during my night class!!!

  4. I wish my boyfriend ate seafood b/c those look good!

  5. I'll have to try eating my mussells the euro way, it looks neat!

  6. I'm ashamed to say that I've never had a mussel. Being the seafood lover I am and all this is strange to me. I think I've always been freaked out by the shell or something. I don't know! Must cross this off my list of foods to try. Must try!