Eating mussels is a treat that many enjoy. They are very versatile in terms of how they can be prepared and how they can be flavored or added to other dishes. When purchasing mussels, it is important to learn exactly how to prepare them and how to preserve them if they are not going to be consumed right away. This will allow you to make the most of your experience and prevent any waste.
What They Are?
Mussels are very similar to clams and oysters. They come within a shell that is not edible. After they are shucked, they can either be eaten cooked or raw (given they are prepared and handled safely). You can find mussels in large bodies of saltwater, but you might also encounter them in certain bodies of freshwater. You might find them attached to gravel or other rocks underwater, as they are moved inland with the tide.
In their natural habitat, it is common to see fine blue threads that connect the closed shells to rocks or other debris on the seafloor. These are what anchor the mussels to the ground and allow them to develop properly. A healthy mussel will appear plump when its shell is opened. A little moisture is common and a good sign with minimal lingering odor.
Much like other types of seafood, mussels come in a variety of types. The meat can appear tan/beige, but it is also common to see some ranging from yellow to orange. All of which are signs of healthy mussels that are good to consume. Their shells can appear blue-black in color and, as long as the shells are not opened or cracked prior to harvesting, this is a sign they are good to eat.
If you notice any cracking in the shell or if it is already opened and the meat seems dry, you should pass on cooking or consuming the mussel. After gently opening the shell with minimal resistance, tapping it closed with little force is a sign that the mussel is developed and ready for consumption.
How to Prepare Them
No matter how you plan on flavoring or cooking the mussels, preparing them properly ahead of time is a must. This will ensure you kill any harmful bacteria before you, or anyone else, consumes them. The first step is ensuring that each mussel is cleaned properly. You can do this by placing them into a bowl and then running them under cold water. This is going to wash away a lot of the debris attached to each shell.
It is common to wash away grit and even mud from their surfaces, but a gentle wash under cold water should be enough to ensure they are safe to eat before they are steamed. Without proper cleaning, all of this bacteria will end up being cooked into the mussels. This means that people who eat them, even without eating their shells, will still be consuming the debris attached to the outside. If necessary, polishing each mussel with a kitchen brush or a clean toothbrush will allow you to double-check they are ready to be cooked.
Most mussels you buy from a store or other professional source have already been cleaned. The cleaning you must complete is just to ensure no debris has been left behind. If you want, you can also soak your mussels to clean them. By making a solution that consists of three cups of water and ¼ cup of kosher salt, this gives the mussels a natural saltwater bath to easily loosen debris and clean the outer shells without damaging the meat inside.
Sometimes, you can find great deals when you buy mussels in bulk. This is likely to happen when you buy them from a direct source and when the mussels are in season. If you know you are not going to eat them all right away, learning how to freeze them can help you preserve them properly for later consumption.
To start, inspect each shell as you normally would. Make sure to discard any mussels with large cracks in their shells or mussels that are already open. You only want to freeze the ones you would feel comfortable with eating immediately. After you clean the suitable mussels, place them into freezer bags and be sure to seal them tightly.
Mussels can be safely frozen for up to three months when they are raw and up to six months when they have already been cooked. This is a great solution that allows you to enjoy them at your own pace while still ensuring you are preparing them properly.
When you are ready to eat your frozen mussels, give yourself one night to thaw in the refrigerator. You do not want to heat them up to speed up this process because this can lead to improper handling and bacteria developing. The process takes patience, but if you do need to speed it up slightly before you cook them, you can run the muscles under warm water while they are inside a freezer bag or container.
Given all of this information, you are now prepared to create delicious meals with mussels. Whether you are enjoying them from home or using them in a restaurant, these same guidelines apply. Proper handling of any seafood ensures the taste remains delicious and those eating it will be kept safe.