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Recipe developer and food photographer Kristen Stevens of The Endless Meal takes the fright factor out of cooking mussels.

I know that mussels can be intimidating if you've never made them before but trust me, they are very easy to make. They're also incredibly versatile, so once you learn the basic method of cooking them you can change the sauce they're cooked in to create many new flavors.

How to Cook Mussels
Photo by Kristen Stevens

A Few Notes for Perfect Mussels

  • Always buy your mussels fresh; frozen mussels have a mealy texture. Make sure the mussel shells are firmly closed. If they are open a little give them a firm tap against the side of the sink or the counter. If they close you can eat them. If not discard them.
  • If you can, inspect each mussel before you buy it and don't buy any that have cracked shells.
  • If you live more than a few minutes away from your fishmonger ask them for a bag of ice to put next to your mussels in your shopping bag. This will help keep them fresh on the trip home.
  • Before cooking, you'll want to give the mussels a scrub under cold running water. Grab their beards (the hairy stuff usually on the bottom side of the mussel) and give it a tug to remove it; farmed mussels may not have beards. Put all the clean mussels in a bowl and put them back in the fridge while you prepare the sauce.
  • Remember that mussels are very salty so you probably won't need to add any extra sea salt.
  • Mussels have a lot of liquid inside of them, so even if your recipe doesn't have much liquid to begin with, once the mussels cook and open up they will release their liquid into the pot and there will be lots of broth.

Creamy French Mussels

Time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4 as a main or 6 as an appetizer

Ingredients

  • 2 lb. fresh mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, very finely minced
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • Fresh cracked pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Directions

1. Scrub the mussels well under cold running water and remove their beards. Place them back in your fridge while you prepare the sauce.

Cleaning Mussels
Photo by Kristen

2. Place a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add the butter and, when it has melted, add the shallots. Sauté the shallots for 3 minutes then add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.

3. Add the white wine and bring the pot to a boil.

Shallots in butter and wine for Mussels
Photo by Kristen Stevens

4. Add the mussels all at once to the pot and give them a stir. Put the lid on the pot and let them cook for 3 minutes.

5. Stir the mussels and remove any from the pot that have opened wide and place them in a serving dish. Continue to remove the mussels from the pot once they have opened.

Removing Opened Mussels
Photo by Kristen Stevens

6. Discard any mussel that remains tightly shut after 6 minutes.

7. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the heavy cream, fresh cracked pepper and chopped parsley. Pour the cooking liquid over the mussels in the serving bowl and serve immediately.

Cream to the pot for Mussels
Photo by Kristen Stevens

Mussels are great served with a side of crusty bread and a couple of spoons for sopping up or spooning up all the tasty broth.

These New England-style mussels are cooked in a white wine broth and topped with a garlic butter. "The best New England-style mussels you will ever taste," says I Sea Food and Eat It. "Serve with thinly sliced garlic French bread toast."

Wicked Good Mussels
Wicked Good Mussels | Photo by I Sea Food and Eat It
| Credit: Sea Food and Eat It

Make-Ahead Mussels?

Mussels must be served immediately after cooking but I've learned a few tricks to make it easier if you are serving these to company:

  • The mussels can be scrubbed an hour before you serve them. Keep them in your fridge until right before you are going to cook them. Before cooking, check them again to make sure none have opened and won't close after a few taps; discard any that won't close. Do expect to throw away a few.
  • The broth or cooking liquid you are going to cook your mussels in can be made a few hours ahead of time and left in the pot at room temperature or refrigerated. Bring it to a boil before adding the mussels.

Variations on the Basic Recipe:

French Mussels

Cook the mussels as described above but omit the cream at the end of cooking.

Chipotle Mussels

Sauté a few shallots in some butter. Add garlic, pureed chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and a few drops of liquid smoke. A little maple syrup and/or a small splash of soy sauce are also nice additions. Add some wine to the pot then continue to cook the mussels as described above. Once the mussels have finished cooking add a splash of cream to the sauce.

Italian Mussels

Sauté some shallots in olive oil. Add garlic and chopped tomatoes to the pot. Add the wine and continue to prepare the mussels as described above. Stir some chopped fresh basil through the sauce once the mussels have finished cooking.

Beer and Bacon Mussels

Dice a handful of bacon and cook it in the pot until it is nearly crispy. Drain most of the oil from the pot then add some finely minced onion. Cook the onion until it is soft and the bacon is crispy. Pour some beer into the pot and bring it to a boil. Cook the mussels as described above. You can also add a splash of cream at the end if you like.

Thai Steamed Mussels
Thai Steamed Mussels | Photo by lutzflcat
| Credit: lutzflcat

Other Ways to Prepare Mussels: