mussels — a primer

Mussels are incredibly easy to cook – when you know the tricks and tips. Purchase your shellfish at a market that sell a lot of shellfish, so turnover is high to ensure freshness. Avoid purchasing any shellfish with broken or damaged shells, or strong odors. All mussels must be alive when you cook them. If you pinch the shell a few times or tap it, it should close. If not, the animal inside is most likely dead and should be discarded.

Store your shellfish in your refrigerator covered with a damp cloth. Access to air is critical. They should not stand in water, so liquid should be drained from the bowl daily. Store no more than two days.

Mussels gobble up phytoplankton, an abundant nutrient in sea water, not scarce like wild fish. This, in turn, improves water quality by filter feeding. Mussels are an environmentally sustainable farm-raised food. But there’s more: mussels are off the charts for Vitamin  B12, high in iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and surprisingly, vitamins A and C. Mussels, cockles and clams are all low in fat and mercury.

The smaller the mussel, the more tender the meat will be.

A combination of cool waters, favorable currents and generous amounts of rich nutrients from the Skagit River Valley makes Penn Cove one of the finest and most famous mussel growing areas in the world. Penn Cove mussels, grown in Penn Cove, have been recognized with top honors at international taste contests. Farm-raised mussels grow from a raft/line system, off the bottom, thereby keeping the mussels free of grit or sand in the shell. The raft system creates a reef-like environment, providing an important habitat for many marine organisms and their culturing technique leaves wild mussel beds undisturbed and in their natural state, unlike dredged mussels from other areas.

Penn Cove mussels are lighter in flavor than Mediterranean mussels. Mediterranean mussels are best for tomato based sauces.

Fresh water mussels, like green lip mussels have a strong flavor, and can be quite large. They are best with strong flavored sauces.

Mussels are high in protein and trace minerals and low in cholesterol.

Store mussels in your refrigerator and place a damp cloth over the mussels. They should not stand in water, so liquid should be drained from the bowl daily. Leave the beard-like material (byssus) intact until preparation time.

Up to half a day before cooking, remove the byssus (or beard) by twisting it about 3 times, then giving it a sharp pull toward the pointed tip of the mussel. Discard any partially opened mussels that do not close after tapping the shell.

serving size:

  • appetizers – 1/2 pound per person
  • entrées – 1-1/2 pound per person

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