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.
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.
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!
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
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 under water. 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.
How to Cook 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.
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. I like to use garlic and onion in mussels. From there head in any direction you want- Mexican, Thai, Italian… the world is your
Meats for flavor
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.) If you want to keep bacon crispy, set it aside and let it drain. I actually drain away the bacon fat and then add in extra-virgin olive oil.
Choose a cooking fat and heat it up:
Depending on the flavor direction you want to go, choose olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, butter are all great options. You can always use the pan drippings from the meat too if you want.
Add Veggies, Fruit and Other Solids
Next you’ll want to saute your garlic, veggies (like onion, fennel bulb and celery) and harder fruit (like apples) any other solid matter that you would want to soften up a bit. You also want to saute any flavorings, like Thai Curry Paste, hot chilies, dried herbs, ginger, galangal, turmeric or spices too 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.
Add in the Liquid
There are a lot of fun ways to flavor mussels with liquid. Some ideas for you are: beer, hard cider, fresh cider, wine, pernod, broth, stock, clam juice and coconut milk. Or a combination of many. For these Mussels with Apples and Bacon, I used clam juice and a splash of apple cider vinegar.
Bring the liquid to a simmer. If you are using a vegetables that will need extra cooking time, you can cook them a bit longer here in the liquid to soften them up a bit.
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. Some thoughts would be fresh basil, tarragon, cilantro or minced scallions. 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. 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.
French fries are a classic accompaniment to mussels. You can make crispy Skinny Oven Fries at home with three ingredients.
Thank you so much for reading! If you try this recipe, please come back and leave a review and star rating! It helps a ton. And if you are new here, make sure you sign up for my email newsletter. I send out the latest recipes every Saturday morning, so you’ll never miss another healthy seasonal recipe!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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
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