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The New Zealand Green-lipped Mussel: Why They Are The Best Culinary Choice Plus Two Recipes

Updated on August 29, 2012
On a tour of the Marlborough Sounds where the green-lipped mussels grow, we ate them right off the line.
On a tour of the Marlborough Sounds where the green-lipped mussels grow, we ate them right off the line. | Source

"The real way to eat mussels is with your fingers straight from the shell..."

I should add that they should be harvested fresh from the water by your boat. That’s the Greenshell™ Mussel Cruise that I took several years ago. Departing from Havelock in the Marlborough Sounds at the northern tip of New Zealand’s south island, I cruised the sounds to the mussel farms.

Green-lipped mussels (aka Greenshell mussels) are native to New Zealand, and New Zealand is the only place on earth where they grow. Approximately 2,153 hectares of marine farms in the Marlborough area produce 50,000 greenweight tonnes of mussles (source: New Zealand Mussel Industry Council).

There are several reasons why I recommend them as the best mussel for cooking. First, is their exceptional size and meatiness. The mussels are typically harvested when they are around 90 millimeter in length, and a typical mussel is 55% meat by weight (compared to 25% for a typical blue mussel). In other words, they’re big and they’re meaty. Second, they are sustainably raised. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guide rates them as a Best Choice because they are raised in an environmentally responsible way, and New Zealand has stringent environmental regulations.

Having seen the waters of the Marlborough Sound in New Zealand and toured one of the mussel farms, these beauties definitely come from unpolluted water. How refreshing.

Mussels in White Wine Butter Sauce


  • 2 lbs mussels (assume 1 lb per person)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic glove, minced
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 lemon, quartered


  1. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the shallot and garlic and sauté until the shallot is soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the wine, turn heat to hight, and bring to a boil.
  4. Add the mussels. Cover and let steam for 5 minutes.
  5. Place mussels into a serving bowl, pour the liquid broth over them. Discard any mussels that did not open. They were dead when they went into the pot. Do not serve them.
  6. Garnish with the parsley and lemon wedges and serve.


Mussels in Coconut Broth


  • 2 lbs mussels (assume 1 lb per person)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2/3 cup sake
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
  • 1 garlic glove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped


  1. In a large pot, whisk together all ingredients (except for the mussels, of course) and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the mussels. Cover and let steam for 5 minutes.
  3. Discard any mussels that did not open. They were dead when they went into the pot, and you don't want to serve them.
  4. Place mussels into a serving bowl, pour the coconut milk broth over them, and serve.

How Not to Screw It Up

  1. By steaming mussels, the heat forces the live mussel to open it's shell to cool itself off. Then...wham...they get cooked. If the mussel never opened it means it was dead before it hit the pot. DO NOT force it open and eat it. This is one way people get sick from shellfish. You couldn't tell it was dead before you steamed it, but you sure can now. Discard it.
  2. A great tip that I've learned to increase the number of live ones that meet my pot is to open the bag of mussels as soon as I get home from the store to let them breath. In fact, you can ask your fishmonger to leave air in the bag for the transport home. Give them breathing room, and definitely leave that bag open and in your refrigerator until you are ready to use them (which I STRONGLY recommend be the same day you bought them).
  3. It's really more tasty and better looking to your guests if you pull the beards off the mussels before you cook. These beards are how the mussels attach themselves to things and eating them is kind of like eating a brillow pad.
  4. When you purchase the sake, make sure to NOT buy unfiltered sake. Unfiltered sake is creamy in color. You want the clear stuff for cooking. However, unfiltered sake makes a great beverage to consume along with the mussels.


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    • MickiS profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from San Francisco

      I've not had a problem finding them when they are in season (usually during northern hemisphere summer) at Whole Foods or at speciality fish markets.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      I'm not much of a fan of mussels, but this is a fabulous guide to preparing them, and goodness... those greenshell mussels are REALLY pretty! I've never seen them before. Are they difficult to find in the States?


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