Ingredient Spotlight | Mussels

Mussels are an excellent choice when considering shellfish. Why? Because they are inexpensive, easy to make and healthy. Who doesn’t love a ridiculous tasty meal that is good for you and low in fat and calories? Mussels are a super food, packed with nutrients that many don’t know about. One of the health benefits of eating mussels is having a healthier heart. The shellfish’s low saturated fat and high omega-3 fatty acids content helps lower the risk of heart attacks and heart disease. Mussels are also rich in protein and Vitamin B12, which are dietary essentials. In fact, each 1-cup serving of mussels contains about 18 grams of protein, which is about 30% of the daily intake.

If you love mussels but are intimidated to cook them yourself, don’t be. Mussels are really simple to prepare, and there are several ways to enjoy them.

Here are some tips on cooking mussels to make sure your dish comes out as delicious as possible:

  1. Store mussels properly. Put them in a bowl and cover loosely with a damp towel. Keep them in the refrigerator, and cook within two days.
  2. Make sure they’re alive. When ready to cook, you’ll want to make sure the mussels are alive and well. Most should still be closed tightly, but for any that are open, give them a tap. If they close, they’re good to go. If they don’t react, throw them out. Also discard any with cracked shells.
  3. Clean thoroughly. If you purchased wild mussels as opposed to cultivated ones, soak them in cold water for 20 minutes and drain. For either type, remove the “beards” by pulling them towards the hinged end of the shell with your thumb and forefinger. Then, scrub the mussels under cold, running water.
  4. Steam them. Steaming mussels is the most popular method of cooking the bivalves. Because they already contain some liquid, you don’t need to add much more. Just add enough liquid of your choice (broth, wine, etc.) to cover the bottom of the hot pot, and then add the mussels. Cover the pot with a lid for about five to seven minutes. When the mussels are open, they’re ready to eat!

Check out our Mussels with Horseradish, Aioli, and Grilled Bread recipe for an interesting take on the popular shellfish!


Also Did You Know…

  • Mussels have been a primary source of food for over 20,000 years.
  • Some mussels can live for up to 50 years!
  • The “beard” of the mussel is called the byssus. Its purpose is to attach the mussel to a solid surface.
  • Male mussels have white or cream-colored meat, while the meat of female mussels has more of an orange hue.
  • This mollusk is largest and fleshiest in October and smallest in March.
  • Watch out! Mussels do contain sodium and cholesterol. This slightly lowers their nutritional value, so as always, eat in moderation.

Mussels with Horseradish, Grilled Bread and Aioli

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Mussels with Horseradish, Grilled Bread and Aioli
by Curtis DiFede
Simple Feast

Serves 4
1 hour 20 minutes total time
50 minutes active time

To say that I am partial to seafood is an understatement. I love the simple, clean flavors of the sea but certain ingredients make fish and shellfish even better. In this case, horseradish offers a dimension of heat to balance the flavors. I like to use the food processor to make the aioli but it can also be made by hand using a mortar and pestle.

Ingredients

Aioli
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup safflower oil or vegetable oil
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, peeled and pounded in a mortar

Mussels
1 ½ gallons water
3 tablespoons fine sea salt
4 pounds mussels, debearded and scrubbed well
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced into 1/8-inch slices
1 medium leek, white and light green portion thinly sliced, 1/8-inch rings
4 shallots, sliced into 1/8-inch rings
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 ½ cups dry white wine
2 tablespoons grated fresh horseradish root
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
½ bunch chives, thinly sliced

Grilled Bread
Eight ½-inch slices rustic Italian bread
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt

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Directions
To Make the Aioli

Combine the olive and safflower oils in a liquid measuring cup.

Put the egg yolk, lemon juice, and mustard in the bowl of the food processor and pulse to combine. With the food processor running, slowly add the oil, through the hole in the top, in a thin stream. Once all the oil is incorporated, stir in the mortared garlic and season with salt. Refrigerate.

To Soak and Cook the Mussels

Put the water and salt in a large bowl and whisk to dissolve the salt. Add the mussels and soak for about 30 minutes to remove any grit. 

Meanwhile, choose a stockpot or Dutch oven that will hold all of the mussels. Pour in a generous film of olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, leek, shallots, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until all are translucent, about 8 minutes. 

Pour in the wine and cook until reduced by half, about 4 minutes. 

Stir in the horseradish and then add the mussels, stirring to coat them in the vegetable mixture. Cover with the lid and let the mussels steam to open, 6 to 8 minutes.

To Grill the Bread

Meanwhile, heat a grill pan to medium-high heat. Brush both sides of the slices with olive oil, and season lightly with salt.  Grill the bread until crispy on both sides.

To Finish the Mussels and Serve

Remove the pot with the mussels from the heat and discard any that haven’t opened. Add the butter, parsley, and chives to the pot, and stir to coat the mussels. 

Put toast in the bottom of each serving bowl and spoon the mussels over the top. Top with a large dollop of aioli.

Equipment
Food processor
Liquid measuring cup
Grill pan
Whisk
Stockpot or Dutch oven
Slotted spoon or spider
Mortar and pestle