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How to Prepare Mussels (it’s really, really easy)

May 7, 2012

Mussels would have to be the easiest protein to prepare, yet a lot of people seem intimidated by them. I think it’s a shellfish thing. And a lot of people don’t seem to know how to prepare them. I’ve heard of people even here on Prince Edward Island, where mussels come from, who thought boiling them was the way to go. (I can’t tell you who that was or my wife would kill me.)

Applying just about any kind of heat will cook mussels. The best way to do this is to steam them. And the great thing about steaming mussels is they tell you when they’re done. No sticking a meat thermometer in a roast, no slicing into the chicken thigh, all you have to do is look at a pot of mussels and they say, “thank you, we’re done. Where’s the melted butter?”

The one rule I think we really all should try to abide by, is don’t steam them using water. Use wine, beer, stock, I’ve even used apple juice. But water is apt to leave them tasting bland. Mussels have a wonderful capacity for taking on flavours, something you should take advantage of.

This is my basic recipe, the one I’ll use if I’m cooking for someone who’s never had mussels. Lots of home cooks and restaurants have variations using garlic, celery, carrots, bay leaves. Feel free to experiment, it’s really hard to mess this up.

Steamed Mussels with Onion and Fresh Thyme

2-3 lbs fresh mussels
about 2 tbsp butter
1 onion, sliced
several sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup white wine

1. Prep the mussels. This has gotten much easier in the last few years, because the mussels we buy have become cleaner and cleaner. On this particular day, we bought some of the new-ish vac pak mussels from Confederation Cove, they come about 2 lbs. to the package. I have a scrub brush I used to use to scrub off the little bits of “seaweed” that would attach to some mussels, but I never need that anymore. You can trim the little “beards” as well, but again I find I don’t need to anymore. I just give them a good rinse in a colander. You want all the mussels to be closed. If some are open try tapping them on the counter or even submerge them in water. If they absolutely refuse to close, don’t cook them. You want to make sure the mussels you’re cooking are actually live. You should throw away any with broken shells as well.

2. There, that was the hard part and it’s much easier than I made it sound. Now melt some butter in a large pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion for about four minutes, then add the thyme, and cook about four minutes more, until the onion is starting to brown.

3. Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the wine, add the mussels and cover. Cook, shaking every once in awhile to redistribute the mussels, or open and give them a stir. This part takes from about 6 to 10 minutes. I’ll set my timer next time. They’re ready when they’ve all completely opened, the mussels have firmed up and they easily come off the shell without falling apart. Once you know what to look for, it’s really easy to figure out when you reach this point. Discard any mussels that didn’t open.

That’s it! All you need now is a bottle of wine, a baguette, some melted butter if you like that, and a date. Best to arrange for most of these ahead of time.

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11 Comments
  1. scooter permalink

    mmmmm i do mine with onion, garlic, ginger, little water, white wine, thyme, basil, paprika, and bay leaf. then i do three different kinds of melted butter; dill, paprika, and black or red peppercorns. i love seeing what you do kerry. but now i gotta go get mussels! i am thinking of trying chili flakes……

  2. Peter permalink

    Iove mussels

  3. Steve permalink

    Just cooked mussels with white wine and garlic, abs lush even the kids who are 7 & 10 enjoyed, even better when they are fresh from the beach today and abs free!!!!!!!!!!

    • I have yet to scavenge for mussels but it’s on my list. Would love to do that sometime when we’re camping at the beach.

      As for kids and mussels, I’ve steamed mussels in apple juice to make them more appealing, but it’s not generally necessary to go to those lengths with our kids. Though our three-year-old will usually try one mussel and then he’s done.

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