How To Clean Mussels

A step-by-step guide for cleaning and debearding mussels.

Cooking mussels is an effortlessly elegant way to make a quick and delicious dinner fresh from the sea. However, when it comes to cleaning fresh mussels, these little bivalves can seem quite intimating but getting to the good parts is easier than you think. Follow these steps to learn how to clean and debeard mussels without breaking a sweat.

Like many shellfish, mussels are sold and cooked live because they spoil very quickly. When shopping for mussels, look for ones kept cold or on ice and have shiny shells that are tightly closed and not damaged. An open shell is an indication that the mussel has died and should not be cooked.

After you purchase your mussels, make sure to unwrap them at home so they can breathe immediately. Discard any mussel that is chipped, broken, or damaged in any way. Also, discard any mussel that is open. The mussels should be tightly closed and stored in a cool area where they can breathe.

How to Clean and Debeard Mussels

mussels being served
Photo by Allrecipes.

1. Soak mussels in fresh water

Before cooking, soak your mussels in fresh water for about 20 minutes. As the mussels breathe, they filter water and expel sand. After about 20 minutes, the mussels will have less salt and sand stored inside their shells.

2. Remove the beard

Most mussels have what is commonly called a "beard," also known as byssal threads. The beard is made of many fibers which emerge from the mussel's shell. To remove the beard, hold the mussel in one hand, cover the other hand with a dry towel, and grasp the beard; give it a sharp yank toward the hinge end of the mussel. This method will not kill the mussel. However, if you were to pull the beard out towards the mussel's opening end, you can tear the mussel, killing it. Discard the byssal threads.

3. Transfer to clean water

Remove the mussels from the dirty water and transfer them to another clean, cold water bowl. Don't pour the mussels and dirty water into a strainer because the sand has sunk to the bottom of the bowl, and you'd end up pouring the sand back on top of the mussels.

4. Rinse and Srub

Use a firm brush to brush off any additional sand, barnacles, or other oceanic attachments. Rinse the mussels under cool tap water, and set them aside. Dry with a towel before cooking.

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