How To Clean and Cook Mussels
If you’re wondering how to cook mussels, then you’re in the right place. Maybe you’ve heard the term “de-beard” but have no idea what that means. Good news: Today I have a complete primer on the easiest way to steam fresh mussels. In this post I will teach you how to prepare them with details on how to store them, de-bearding and cleaning plus an easy and tasty recipe for Steamed Mussels with Apples and Bacon.
I originally shared this guide to cooking Steamed Mussels on December 17th, 2018. I have updated some of the text and photos to share it with you again today.
Table of contents
A Step-By-Step Guide To Cooking Mussels
Mussels often fall into the category of “only eat at a restaurant” for a lot of folks, and today it is my mission to change that. They do seem a bit intimidating, but honestly, mussels are incredibly easy to cook. I would even say “foolproof!” Here’s what you need to know about mussels.
To walk you through all the steps of cooking mussels, I am sharing this recipe for Steamed Mussels with Cider with Apples and Bacon, but you’ll see that any combo will work with this easy formula!
For a more classic version of steamed mussels, make sure to check out our Simple Steamed Mussels with Garlic. They are as delicious as any from a French Bistro but can easily be made at home for a fraction of the cost in just a few minutes!
- If you use the Seafood Watch website or smartphone app, then you may already know that mussels are almost always a best or good choice in terms of their sustainability. They are plankton filters, so they minimally disrupt the ocean in which they are cultured. Some mussels are dredged which isn’t as safe so try to avoid them. Because I live in the North East, I try to buy rope cultured mussels from Prince Edward Island.
- Also good to know, common varieties of mussels are actually pretty cheap as far as seafood goes, about $4 a pound. They are in season in the winter, so you’ll find good deals on them especially around Christmas, New Years Eve, during lent and Valentines day.
- When choosing where to buy your mussels, go to either a reputable seafood and meat market, or to a larger grocery store with a lot of turn-over. Mussels are sold live, so the fresher the better.
- They are sold in mesh bags most of the time, but they are sold by the pound, so it is usually okay to ask the person at the seafood counter to break the bag open.
- One bag of mussels is a generous main course for two people, or four smaller servings for an appetizer.
- They should be on ice and well drained to keep them as cold as possible. It’ a good sign if the mussels have lots of ice piled around them. That means they are not sitting in liquid.
- They should not be stinky or slimy.
- Make sure they do not seal the bag that they transfer them into. The mussels need to breathe!
How Many Mussels Per Person?
Plan on purchasing 1/2 pound to 1 pound of fresh uncooked mussels per person. This recipe uses 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of mussels and makes 4 entree servings or 8 appetizer portions.
Once you get the mussels home, store them properly. Note: it is best to to cook and eat the mussels on the same day you bring them home. Here is how to store them:
- Set a colander in a large bowl.
- Place mussels in the colander.
- Top with ice and place in the fridge.
- Do not cover them with anything other than a towel.
- Add more ice if necessary.
- Drain away any moisture from the bowl to keep the mussels from sitting in liquid.
How to Clean Mussels
Before you steam your mussels, you need to clean them. First, discard any mussels with broken shells. Because they’re on ice, they are very slow to react, so you can tap any of them that are open on the cutting board, and if they close they are alive. If they do not close, throw them away, they are dead and cannot be eaten.
Then set up a cleaning station in the (clean) sink. Gently run cold water over each mussel, and scrub shells with a soft vegetable or kitchen brush to remove any pieces of foreign matter from the shells.
When mussels are harvested, they will often latch onto whatever they were holding on to while growing. In the case of cultured mussels, this is often a fibrous piece of rope that they are grown on underwater. The mussels will often still have a bit of that attached. This is what is called the beard. To remove the beard, or de-beard the mussel, gently pull it off. For stubborn beards, trim as close to the shell as possible with a pairing knife.
Ingredients For Cooking Mussels
Mussels are very easy to cook and can be done so in an almost formulaic way, so that you can experiment and change the flavors but use the same method over and over. Here are some guidelines in choosing the combination of ingredients
- Mussels: For a generous entree portion plan on one pound of mussels per person.
- Meat (Optional): In the case of the below recipe we used bacon. Other options are chorizo or pancetta. You can skip the meat altogether to keep this pescatarian.
- Oil: To cook the garlic or veggies you’ll need a little fat to cook them. I like olive oil, but any cooking oil works.
- Garlic, Onion or Other Veggies: I recommend using either finely chopped garlic or onion. Or both! In the case of this recipe, I bumped up the veggies in this recipe to make it a complete meal. I added in celery and apple too!
- Aromatics: Mussels are pretty salty, so you’ll only need a small amount of salt and pepper. I also added dry thyme to this recipe. Feel free to get creative with the seasoning. You can also add in lemon zest at the end. Feel free to really mix ut up here and take your flavor profile in any direction: Mexican, Thai, Italian. Try Thai Curry Paste, hot chilies, dried herbs, ginger, galangal, turmeric or spices… the world is your
- Liquid: I like to use clam juice for mussels. There are a lot of other fun ways to flavor mussels with liquid. Some ideas for you are: beer, hard cider, fresh apple cider, white wine, pernod, broth, stock, clam juice and coconut milk. Or a combination of a couple liquids. For these Mussels with Apples and Bacon, I steamed them in clam juice and a splash of apple cider vinegar.
- Herbs: Adding fresh parsley or other herbs to the finished dish really freshens it up! Fresh Basil, cilantro, minced scallions and tarragon are also great with mussels.
How to Cook Mussels
Start with mis en placing all of your ingredients before you start cooking. That means, having everything ready to go, before you turn the stove on, so that you are not scrambling to keep up.
When mussels cook they open up and end up taking up about 1/3 more space in the pot, so make sure you choose a pot large enough to accommodate them once open. I like to use one with a good heavy bottom. It will need a well-fitting lid as well.
Once you’ve cleaned your mussels, measure out your other ingredients, and chop your veggies and meats.
Add the Meat if Using
If using a flavoring meat such as bacon, sausage or chorizo, cook that first in your pot to make fond (the browned tasty crusty bits in the bottom of the pot.)
Remove the bacon from the pot:
To keep the bacon crispy remove it from the pot and set it aside to drain. You’ll be able to add it back in at the end and it will stay crisp. I actually drain away the bacon fat to cut the saturated fat a little.
Add Veggies, Fruit and Other Solids
Add in your additional oil. And then you’ll want to saute your veggies and sautee them to soften them up a bit. Add in your aromatics to bloom them in the oil.
If there are a lot of veggies, they will deglaze the pot, and keep it from becoming too dark.
Steam with Liquid
Next, you’ll need to add the liquid to steam the mussels. Bring the liquid to a simmer. If you are using vegetables that will need extra cooking time, you can cook them a bit longer here in the liquid to soften them up a bit before you steam the mussels.
Add the Mussels
Once your liquid is simmering, add in the mussels on top of the vegetables. You do not need to stir them, just quickly cover them and let them steam.
As soon as the shells open, this only takes three to five minutes, remove the lid and take the pot off the heat to stop cooking them. Over-cooking them will make them chewy!
Add fresh herbs and anything you want to add for texture at the end. I used parsley and the cooked bacon.
Then stir everything together. The liquid and veggies will now be able to get into the mussels and flavor them. The shells will catch all of the good juices too! If you see any mussels that have not opened, you’ll need to discard them. That means they were dead to begin with, and should not be eaten.
To serve, transfer the mussels to bowls with tongs, then spoon the veggies and broth over them, dividing evenly. Aioli is really yummy on top of mussels, so you can add that on last, or drizzle on any finishing oils or garnishes.
What To Serve with Steamed Mussels
- Serving mussels with grilled bread is my absolute favorite accompaniment. If it is too cold to grill outdoors, you can do it on a grill pan or just toast the bread. I like to use a good quality baguette and slice it on the bias. You can also use homemade whole-wheat bread. I brush olive oil or roasted garlic oil over it and then grill it for one to two minutes per side just to warm it up and char it a bit.
- We love shellfish served over spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine. Spoon the cooking liquid over the pasta as the sauce.
- French fries are a classic accompaniment to mussels. You can make crispy Skinny Oven Fries at home with three ingredients or our roasted potato wedges. Serve with our Garlic Greek Yogurt Aioli Sauce.
- Serve with coleslaw and asparagus with tarragon vinaigrette.
- A bitter winter salad would be a fresh side to round out the meal. I love chopped winter salad. But beet greens with sherry dressing would also be awesome.
- For dessert try my Gingerbread Cake, Carrot Cake or Apple Cake.
Thanks so much for reading! If you are new here, you may want to sign up for my email newsletter to get a free weekly menu plan and the latest recipes right to your inbox. If you make this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review. I would love to hear what you thought!
Happy Cooking! ~KatiePrint
If you’re wondering how to cook mussels, then you’re in the right place. Maybe you’ve heard the term “de-beard” but have no idea what that means. Good news: Today I have a complete primer on the easiest way to cook fresh mussels. Plus how to store them, de-bearding and cleaning plus an easy and tasty recipe for Mussels with Apples and Bacon.
- 2 to 2 1/2 pounds fresh live mussels
- 3 slices bacon, chopped
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 large apple, diced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ teaspoon ground pepper, preferably white
- 1 8-ounce bottle clam juice, see ingredient note*
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- Rinse and scrub mussels under cold running water. Pull off any “beards” with fingers and a pairing knife. If a mussel shell is open, gently tap it on the counter. Discard any mussels that do not close up after tapping. Set aside in a colander.
- Cook Bacon: Place bacon in a large heavy-bottomed Dutch Oven over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally until crisp, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate and pour off any bacon fat.
- Cook Vegetables: Return the Dutch oven to medium heat and add oil. Add garlic, celery, onion, apple, salt, thyme and pepper and cook, stirring often until the apple and vegetables are starting to soften and brown slightly, about 5 minutes.
- Add Broth and Mussels: Stir in clam juice and cider vinegar, increase heat to high, cover and bring to a boil. Stir in the mussels, cover and cook, stirring once or twice until the mussel shells are opened 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked bacon and parsley. Discard any mussels that didn’t open.
ingredient note* Clam juice and Clam broth can vary greatly depending on the brand. I like the Bar Harbor brand because it only has 480 mg of sodium per bottle. If you can’t find one of the lower sodium brands, simply reduce the amount of added salt in step 3.
Whole30: To make this recipe compliant, check the ingredients on your clam juice and bacon to make sure they are compliant.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 15
- Category: Main Course
- Method: Stove top
- Cuisine: French
- Serving Size: 3 1/2 cup
- Calories: 284
- Sodium: 2 g
- Fat: 10 g
- Saturated Fat: 2 g
- Carbohydrates: 18 g
- Fiber: 2 g
- Protein: 30 g
Keywords: mussels,bacon,apples,healthy,glutenfree,seafood,fish,lent,New Years Eve,Christmas Eve,Christmas,healthy