How to Collect, Clean and Cook Fresh Mussels

Fresh mussels should be cooked very quickly and simply if they are to be enjoyed at their best
Fresh mussels should be cooked very quickly and simply if they are to be enjoyed at their best

Fresh mussels are a delicious foodstuff, incredibly quick and easy to cook at home in your kitchen. Unfortunately, there are a few hazards associated with collecting, preparing and cooking fresh mussels of which it is essential you take full account. This page is devoted to looking at tips for collecting fresh mussels, preparing them and cooking them to ensure you enjoy them at their very best. If you are in the fortunate position to have shoreline access to fresh mussels, or even a supermarket or fishmonger's where they can be purchased, why not get a hold of some - by whichever method - and follow these logical steps to enjoy a thoroughly tasty eating experience?

Important Tips for Collecting Fresh Mussels - Safety First!

Cairndow beach, near the head of Loch Fyne in the West of Scotland, is where the mussels featured on this page were collected -  providing some compensation at the end of a less than successful fishing trip...
Cairndow beach, near the head of Loch Fyne in the West of Scotland, is where the mussels featured on this page were collected - providing some compensation at the end of a less than successful fishing trip... | Source

Collecting mussels, either for fishing bait or for food, is the best way of ensuring that the mussels you get are as fresh and pristine as possible. There are a number of factors which you have to take in to account, however, when contemplating collecting mussels, for a variety of vitally important safety and ecological reasons.

  1. Be sure that the waters in the area from which you intend collecting the mussels are clean. It may be obvious that mussels should not be collected from near a busy, working harbour but it is also important to take in to account potential hazards such as sewage pipe outlets. You may have to do some quality research in this respect from local tourist authorities or perhaps fishing tackle shops.
  2. In many areas, collecting fresh mussels from the rocks will only be possible at lower stages of the tide. Make sure in these instances that you know not only the tide times but the tide patterns. Getting cut off by a flooding tide behind you is a very real possibility in a lot of coastal areas and can of course be a fatal mistake.
  3. Remember that the areas from which you are collecting fresh mussels may not only be rocky but covered in weed. This will make them treacherously slippy. Make sure you are wearing appropriate footwear, tread carefully and do not take unnecessary risks.
  4. It should be possible to prise mussels from the rocks by hand. Resist the temptation to smash them off (unless they are only to be used immediately as fishing bait) as damaging the shells will kill the mussels and render them quickly inedible.
  5. Please, practice environmentally friendly collection. Take only the mussels you need for bait or your cooking pot and resist the possible temptation to collect a quantity that you don't need, simply because they are there and available.
  6. When you have collected your mussels, you will want to get them home in the best condition possible. An excellent way of transporting them is loosely wrapped in some thick, seawater soaked cloth, stored in an open bucket. They can also be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in cloth in this way for a couple of days but you should ideally cook and eat them as soon as possible.

How to Clean Mussels and Prepare them for Cooking

Mussels which you gather yourself will still have their beards and perhaps barnacles attached
Mussels which you gather yourself will still have their beards and perhaps barnacles attached
Barnacles and beards removed from fresh mussels
Barnacles and beards removed from fresh mussels
Mussels are very briefly steeped in fresh water
Mussels are very briefly steeped in fresh water
Sand expelled from live mussels
Sand expelled from live mussels
Mussels ready for steaming
Mussels ready for steaming

If you buy your fresh, live mussels from a fishmonger's or supermarket, the chances are that the barnacles, beard and other potential attachments will already have been removed. Where you have collected the mussels yourself, however, this is a job you are going to have to undertake when you get home. Just like cleaning any type of fish or shellfish, there are a few tricks which will not only help make the job easier but ensure you are less likely to damage the mussels in preparation.

The beard of mussels is a fibrous attachment, protruding from one side of the shell. It is important to remove the beard correctly to avoid damaging and potentially killing the mussel. Hold the mussel tightly in your weaker hand and grab hold of the beard with the fingers of your stronger hand. Pull it firmly towards the narrow, hinged end of the mussel and it should fairly easily come free.

It is possible that there will not be any barnacles (shells of smaller organisms) attached to your mussels but where they are present, they should be removed prior to cooking. This can sometimes be achieved by brushing vigorously with a stiff bristled or wire brush but more stubborn attachments will have to be scraped off with a short, sturdy bladed knife. If using a knife, do be sure to protect your hand holding the mussels. This can be achieved by folding a towel to provide thick protection but ideally you should use one of the specially manufactured, cut resistant gloves, designed for cleaning and opening shellfish.

Although lengthy exposure to fresh water will kill mussels, you may want to steep them in it for fifteen minutes only prior to cooking. This actually causes them to expel sand and other impurities from inside their shells. Very importantly, however, be sure to lift the mussels out of the water at the end of this period and not strain them, as all the impurities will be at the bottom of the bowl and straining would simply cause them to be poured back over the mussels.

How to Steam Fresh Mussels

The steam from the boiling liquid should cause the mussels to cook and open in just a few minutes
The steam from the boiling liquid should cause the mussels to cook and open in just a few minutes
Shallot and fresh parsley compliment mussels
Shallot and fresh parsley compliment mussels
Chopped shallot and parsley
Chopped shallot and parsley
Shallot, parsley, white wine and water
Shallot, parsley, white wine and water
Mussels are added to the boiling liquid
Mussels are added to the boiling liquid

Shellfish of most types are very delicate, both in texture and in flavour. This means that they must be cooked very carefully and not overwhelmed by an excessive variety of flavourants. Steaming mussels is an excellent way of cooking them to perfection and takes literally only a few minutes. In this instance, about twenty mussels were cooked to serve two as a meal starter.

Before starting to cook, ensure that all the mussel shells are closed. If not, lightly tap them on a hard surface and where they still fail to close, discard them immediately as they are dead and unsafe to eat.

Peel and finely chop one small shallot. Roughly chop a small bunch of parsley. It is important not to add too much liquid to your cooking pot as it is the steam which should cook the mussels. In this instance, one cup each of water and white wine covered the base of the pot to just around half an inch. Add the shallot and parsley, very lightly season with salt and pepper and bring to a rapid boil.

Pour the mussels in to the pot and put the lid on, keeping it on a high heat to create as much steam as possible. Gently shake the pot to evenly distribute the mussels. Cook for around two to three minutes only, until the mussel shells have opened. Any which do not open are dead and must never be eaten.

Use a large slotted spoon to transfer the mussels - in their shells - to serving plates. Spoon over a little of the liquid and garnish with a little more parsley only, if desired. Serve the mussels, which should be eaten by pulling the shells apart and using the empty half in each instance as a spoon to free and eat the flesh.

Mussels steamed in white wine with shallots and parsley
Mussels steamed in white wine with shallots and parsley

How do you like to cook and eat fresh mussels?

This page provides only one suggestion for cooking fresh mussels. They are equally delicious cooked in a smoker, or perhaps even in a wet hessian sackcloth in a beach fire pit.

Thank you for visiting and for reading and if you have any tips or suggestions for cooking mussels, why not share them in the space below?

4.6 stars from 5 ratings of this mussels recipe idea!

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31 comments

Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 18 months ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Thank you aesta1. Yes, it's amazing how difficult it can be to stop eating mussels once we start.


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 18 months ago from Ontario, Canada

We love mussels and I am very selective of the places where I would eat them. I wish I can gather them as well. Your recipe is how we do mussels, too. Once, we served mussels to start but our dinner guests dug into it and just stuck to the mussels ignoring the rest of the dinner.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Thank you, doesthebellyrulethemind. That sounds delicious. I have eaten oysters cooked in a similar fashion but never mussels. I'll need to give that one a try when I next go collecting mussels.


doesthebellyrulethemind 3 years ago

Good site. Grilling Mussels, with parmesan, butter,lemon zest, parsley and breadcrumbs. They need steaming open first. Then the mix is added to the mussel. Popped under the grill. Many variations on the net, Asian and Spanish.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

HI, Tony and thanks. Yes, that sounds delicious. Bread is great for soaking up the wonderful juices. Cheers.


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 4 years ago from Yorkshire

Hi Gordon

I love mussels fresh from the sea or fish-mongers. I usually cook mine in wine with lots of garlic, shallots, and great thick doorsteps of fresh bread. Good hub as usual Gordon.

Cheers tony.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Thanks, wmhseo. They certainly are.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Mussels definitely make for attractive presentation in many ways, Fullerman. I've heard of the Louisiana seafood and hopefully you will give this method a try. You certainly have access to the quality raw materials. Thanks for visit and comment.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Sounds good, Golfgal. I've had mussels regularly in pubs as well. Hope you'll give this a try to enjoy it. Thanks for commenting.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Glad it's useful to you Prasetio. Thanks and I hope you enjoy the food.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Hi, 100Ktrainer. I hope you manage to get a hold of some. There is definitely something special about eating food like this which you have collected and prepared yourself. Thanks for visiting.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Thanks, Night Flower. Your niece has good taste and I hope you enjoy the mussels with her.


wmhseo profile image

wmhseo 4 years ago from Canada

Wow! Fresh mussels looks like it's delicious.


Fullerman5000 profile image

Fullerman5000 4 years ago from Louisiana, USA

I always see professional chefs preparing and cooking mussels and they always look amazing. This is great advice and might give this a shot. Being from Louisiana, we love cooking seafood with an array of cajun spices. So I am thinking of approaching this a similar way. thanks for the tips. voted useful and up.


Golfgal profile image

Golfgal 4 years ago from McKinney, Texas

All I can seem to gather up....is...YUMMY. Just yesterday I had mussels at a local pub. They were delectable and wading in a cream garlic suace to die for. I will definitely go back to that pub for more when I get a hankering. Thanks for the hub, it was awesome to learn more about the process of doing it yourself.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

This was awesome hub from you, brother. I learn new things about how to clean and cook fresh mussels. Thanks for share with us. Good work and rated up!

Prasetio


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Hi, K9. Great to hear from you, my friend. Hope you are well. Yes, there can be a great many impurities in the old mussels. As you know, I like basic techniques to cook simply and well and sustainability is very important to me. This old technique was a great piece of advice, given to me a number of years ago.

Hope it's of use to you! :)

Gordon


100ktrainer profile image

100ktrainer 4 years ago from Michigan

Cool article ... This makes me want to go and get some for dinner. I've tried mussels restaurant style, but I'm sure they can't beat what you've written about here.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Thanks oldandwise. Hope you enjoy your meal.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Hi, Les Trois Chenes. Mussels are beautiful to eat when prepared correctly but there is a definite danger when that is not the case.

I have lived in different parts of Edinburgh but nearer the City Centre. I know Musselburgh but I don't recall ever fishing it. I have fished the neighbouring Portobello several times. Good point on how Musselburgh gets its name. I'll need to investigate, I'm afraid! :)


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Hello, Wesman. Thanks for visiting. I am grateful to you for commenting and obviously more than honoured to have Paul share my offering with the wider Hub Pages community.

I would imagine the mussels are fairly similar. There are some species around the world where the shells are too soft to prepare them in this way. There is a huge issue going on in Scotland just now with Loch Etive mussels, as a foreign invader has got in and the farms have had to be closed. This is not due to pollution but the fact that the mussels are too weak shelled to be eaten. Unfortunatley, although the pollutuion method is unknown, they are believed to be from Canada...


NightFlower profile image

NightFlower 4 years ago

Sounds Deeelicious and my neice has recently discovered them which means my Mama has additional cooking to do. My neice is spoiled (but sweet) ordering up food like her Grandmother's kitchen is a restaurant lol. Yummy hub.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Thanks very much for your visit and comment, Paul. I'm afraid grilling mussels is not something I have ever had the opportunity to do. I have found that the most important factor with cooking the mussels is the steam and the speed of cooking. Perhaps grilling them on sea water soaked sackcloth (as I have cooked them in fire pits on the beach) may be the answer. This basically involves digging a pit, letting the fire die down and cooking the mussels in cloth on the heat of the embers.

Hope it works for you! :)


BizGenGirl profile image

BizGenGirl 4 years ago from Seattle

Oh! What a great hub. Do you know anything about clamming (hunting, cleaning and cooking)?


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 4 years ago from Northern, California

Gordon! I had no idea there was that much sand captured inside the mussels! Amazing. I really have to try your technique, the advice on a gentle touch when dealing with these shelled delights is really wonderful. I just love mussels of any kind! It is only the best chefs (like yourself) that know a little seasoning will allow the true essence of such fresh food to shine through! Great job here, as usual.

I hope this finds you doing remarkably well my friend!

HubHugs~

K9


oldandwise 4 years ago

Very informative, will have to try this out. voted up.


Les Trois Chenes profile image

Les Trois Chenes 4 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

What a lovely and informative Article. I've had mussels in a restaurant that have been bad, and I've prepared them myself and produced an inedible dish. This is good information about a delicious dish that is dodgy if not dangerous if the proper precautions are not taken.

PS Lived in Edinburgh near Musselborough - any link with mussels??


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Those look exactly like the mussels that I'd see on the Pacific coast in Northern California a couple years ago.

I wonder how similar they really are. They might be exactly the same.

I thought you might like to know that I saw this because Paul E., the CEO of this site shared this for you - you got some major props on this hub, Sir!!!

I'd love to enjoy some of those, and right about now too.


Paul Edmondson profile image

Paul Edmondson 4 years ago from Burlingame, CA

This is a fantastic hub. I'd like to learn if there is a good technique for grilling shellfish.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 4 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Hello, azahorik. Thank you for your visit and comment. I hope the information proves useful to you.

With regard to the steeping in fresh water, it was an old sea skipper that told me about this trick out on the boat one day, quite a number of years ago. Although I am no marine biologist, my understanding of the procedure is that the fresh water serves as an irritant to the mussels, causing them to purge the sand and other impurities. Without putting too fine a point on it, perhaps much in the same way that drinking a glass of heavily salted water would cause a human to purge the contents of their stomach. Try this for yourself. You should see all the sand and grit left in the bottom of your bowl.


azahorik profile image

azahorik 4 years ago from Philadelphia, PA/Venice, Italy

Very clear, concise, and informative. You hit all of the important points that come to mind, and told me a few things I wasn't aware of.

One question, though: What about soaking the mussels in salted water to remove the grit? I always seem to end up with sandy mussels and I'm always looking for ways to get them to expel all of the sand.

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