Cleaning mussels is necessary before cooking them because they usually contain at least small amounts of sand, grit, and maybe even bits of seaweed. Plus, you need to remove their "beards."
If you're not familiar with mussels, you're probably thinking, "Remove their what?!?"
When still in the water, mussels attach themselves to underwater surfaces with byssal threads, strands of protein commonly called "beards" and normally removed right before cooking.
Most fish markets in the U.S. sell cultured mussels. They're usually loose or in net bags on a bed of ice.
How much should you buy? Figure one pound per person for a main course, and half a pound as an appetizer.
As soon as you bring the mussels home, refrigerate them - not in a closed plastic bag, as they need to breathe! To avoid the risk of toxins, mussels must be alive when cooked.
Keeping mussels alive can be tricky, so try to cook them on the same day you buy them.
The whole process of cleaning mussels is fast and easy - once you understand it!
Here's how to clean mussels quickly and easily:
1. Soak the mussels in a large bowl or bucket of cold water for about 20 minutes. Throw away any with broken, chipped, or cracked shells.
2. Use a plastic brush to scrub each mussel quickly on both sides under running water.
If you find one open, tap it sharply on the surface of its shell. If it doesn't close within a minute or so, discard it as it may be dead.
3. After you scrub each mussel, take a paper towel, use it grasp the beard, and gently pull it toward the hinged side of the mussel to remove it. If you tug in the other direction, you risk pulling out part of the mussel along with the beard and killing it. If this happens, throw it away.
4. After you scrub and de-beard all the mussels, you may want give them one or two more quick rinses, especially if you found a lot of sand after the initial soaking.
That's it! The mussels are now ready to cook!
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