Mussels grow in waters around the world. Here in New England you’ll find the Northern Blue Mussel, also called P.E.I. mussels (from Prince Edward Island, CA). A long kept secret of New England fisherman, the black mussel continues to gain in popularity as a delicious alternative to the traditional steamed clam. Mussels are a bivalve shellfish that measures from two to three inches in length. The shell is primarily a blackish color with bluish highlights. Best enjoyed steamed with a little melted garlic butter. Fresh mussels are also great in soups, sauces and pastas.
How can you tell the difference between wild and cultured mussels? Wild mussels, which are a dull bluish color with white erosion marks, usually have seaweed or barnacles attached. Cultured mussels have shiny bluish-black shells, free of barnacles and seaweed. What’s more, with cultivated mussels there is really no need to scrub the mussel with a stiff brush or remove the beard (bysssal threads) of the clams.
Mussels give you muscles! A 6 oz portion of cooked blue mussels contains 40g of protein and only 294 calories. An equal portion of steak contains four times more calories and eighteen times more fat. Fresh mussels are also rich in iron, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, zinc, vitamins C and B12 and more essential Omega-3 fatty acids than any other shellfish.
Buy your fresh mussels from a busy fish market with lots of turnover. Look for the tag to see when and where the mussels were harvested. Shellfish purveyors are required by law to keep all tags for 90 days. Don’t hesitate to ask for the tag. If the tag is not available don’t buy the mussels!
You should always buy fresh mussels in a mesh bag. Some seafood markets will sell them in plastic bags- stay clear from these mussels! Mussels need to breathe (see storing mussels below). Take a whiff.
Mussels should smell clean and briny like the ocean. Never buy mussels that are cracked, chipped or broken. If any mussels are open, test them to make sure they’re alive. If gaping slightly, they should close if you tap on the shell. If any don’t close, discard them.
There are approximately 12-15 mussels per pound. Serve a ½ pound of mussels per person as a first course and 1 ½ to 3/4 lbs as a main course.
Storing Fresh Mussels
You can safely refrigerate mussels for 4-6 days. To store live mussels in the shell, refrigerate in a shallow bowl in the bottom shelf of your refrigerator and cover with a damp cloth or paper towel to prevent them from drying out. DO NOT store mussels in a plastic bag or air tight container. They will suffocate! Also avoid letting them sit in fresh water. The less mussels are disturbed, the longer they will remain alive; therefore, the time to clean them is just before cooking.
Mussels are a cinch to eat. All you need is a small fork and simply remove the meat from the shell, and dip the meat in the broth. Enjoy with your favorite wine! Try a Pinot Blanc or Muscadet to bring out their flavor. Visit our friends at East Coast Gourmet for a classic recipe for steaming mussels.