From cooking, frying and stir-frying to grilling
When they’re in season, they are back on the table with full joy. Mussels have a salty, fresh-sweet taste. But what exactly are mussels and what is the best way to cook them? We answer these and other questions below.
What are mussels?
Mussels are clams that often live close together in a tidal zone (area between the high and low water mark, which is flooded at high tide and dries up at low tide) and in places with a strong surf.
Mussels have an elongated asymmetrical triangular, relatively thin but firm shell. The outside of the shell has a purple-blue color. Shells of young animals are yellowish and slightly translucent. The ‘skin’ of the shell is black in adults.
Mussels are attached to stones or shells with the help of strong threads, the beard of the mussel. These threads also ensure that the mussel does not wash away when a large wave passes by. They mainly live on plankton that they filter out of the water.
Mussels are sold alive and cooked. After being caught, they can survive without water for a few days. That is why you cannot store mussels for a long time and it is very important that you do not cook and eat mussels that have expired. You can get very sick from this.
Where do mussels come from?
Wild mussels are mainly found in Ireland, Denmark and Canada. Growing areas are France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.
Nowadays, mussels are usually farmed at depths of less than 30 meters. Mussel seed is caught by means of mussel catching installations of floating cords and nets. In hatcheries, this mussel seed is further cultivated in their natural environment for 10 to 15 months. When they are 4 to 5 cm in size, the mussels are collected with a trawl net.
Mussel farming has relatively little impact on the environment and is carried out all over the world. In the Netherlands, mussels are cultivated in a sustainable manner in the Zeeland fishing towns of Yerseke, Zierikzee, Bruinisse and Tholen.
The season for the Zeeland mussel runs from July to April of the following year.
How does it taste like?
Mussels have a salty, fresh-sweet taste. The meat is soft but at the same time a bit chewy.
Mussels are very healthy, because they contain healthy fats just like other fish. They are an excellent source of protein and are packed with minerals such as manganese, selenium and vitamins such as B12 and C. In addition, mussels are low in calories.
The manganese in mussels helps to regulate blood pressure, sugar levels and blood clotting, among other things. Selenium maintains the immune system and acts as an antioxidant to fight cellular damage.
Vitamin B12 provides a more stable mood and helps the body to make the best use of iron. The vitamin C in mussels helps strengthen ligaments and tendons and keeps teeth healthy.
Which wine pairs with mussels?
A mildly dry, white wine with a fresh fruity taste goes very well with mussels. Alsatian (French) wines such as those from Domaine René Muré are an excellent choice. Think of, for example, a beautiful Riesling, Pinot Gris or Pinot Blanc.
How to cook mussels?
It is best to buy mussels on the day you plan to eat them. You can keep them in the refrigerator for a short time. If you want to keep them longer than a day, put them in salted water in the refrigerator.
Use a mussel pan with an extra high lid to cook mussels. The mussel shells open during cooking and take up extra space. You can also use a large soup pot or deep wok. Make sure that the soup pot or wok is only one third full with dense, uncooked mussels.
Mussels don’t have to be cooked for long. As soon as they open, they are already ready. Don’t overcook them as they will become tough and rubbery. You can garnish mussels with, for example, onion, leek, celery, red peppers and tomatoes.
How do you clean mussels?
- Place the mussels in a colander in the sink and run cold running water over them. Use both hands to rinse them or use a clean brush.
- Some mussels have a beard, the hairy-looking wisps that protrude from the mussel. Cut this off.
- Some mussels also have a ‘pimple’ or other type of shell on the outside. Scrape it off with a knife. If you leave it on, it can fall off during cooking and leave grit in your cooked clams.
It is important that you check the mussels one by one. Throw broken shells away immediately. They are no longer usable.
You can tap a mussel that is slightly open with a spoon or tap it on the counter. If it doesn’t close by itself, it’s dead and you should rather throw it away.
How do you eat the shellfish?
You eat mussels without a knife and fork. The easiest way to eat them is to use an empty shell as a kind of mussel tongs to remove the mussels from the shell. You can eat mussels raw, boiled, au gratin or fried.
As a main course, 1 kilogram of mussels per person is sufficient. Usually, 1 kilogram of mussels contains about 250 g of mussel meat. If you serve fries, bread or pasta with it, half a kilo is usually sufficient.
When cooking mussels, do this at a medium temperature.
- Place the rinsed mussels in a mussel pan with just the water adhering to them. This way you don’t have to add water.
- You can add a splash of wine or beer or coconut milk for an Asian twist.
- Bring the dish to a boil.
- Shake the pan well a few times. This will make the mussels move through the pan and cook evenly.
- The cooking time of mussels is 3 to 8 minutes. Mussels are done when they have burst open. Don’t cook them for too long. It is not really possible to cook mussels too short, you can even eat fresh mussels raw.
Frying in the pan
If you want to fry mussels, you should do this at a medium temperature.
- Make sure the mussels are at room temperature.
- Peel the mussels from the shell.
- Dip the mussels in some flour or breadcrumbs so that they are completely covered.
- Melt 50 g of butter in a pan. A dash of sunflower or peanut oil is also allowed.
- Bake the mussels for 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle the fried mussels with a little lemon juice.
Stir-frying in the pan
When stir-frying mussels, you do this at a high temperature.
- Heat the wok pan over high heat. Pour in a dash of peanut oil.
- Shortly stir-fry half rings of shallot and pieces of celery. Stir or shake this mixture regularly.
- Put the mussels in the wok.
- Add pieces of chili pepper, lemongrass and grated ginger to taste.
- Add 2 deciliters of wine or sake while stir-frying.
- Keep a close eye on the cooking time of the mussels. Check them after just a few minutes. The mussel meat should be cooked through, but buttery soft at the same time.
- Shake the wok regularly. Additional salt and pepper are not necessary.
Grilling on the barbecue
If you grill mussels on the barbecue, make sure that the coals are hot.
- Boil the mussels in advance.
- Remove the mussels from the shell.
- Put them back in the shell together with a knob of herb butter.
- Let them melt on the barbecue.
Recipe: Classic steamed mussels with white wine
Classic steamed mussels with white wine
- 4 kilograms mussels
- 1 leek
- 1 winter carrot
- 2 onions
- 1 bunch parsley
- 6 bay leaves
- 2 glasses white wine
- black pepper freshly grounded
- Place the mussels in the sink or in a large bowl and cover them completely with cold water. Scoop out the mussels and change the water.
- Check carefully whether there are any broken mussels, remove them immediately. If there are any mussels with their shells open, give them a gentle tap on the counter. Mussels that close immediately are still good. If the shells do not close, discard these mussels as well.
- Scrape any smallpox or small shells from the mussel shells with a knife.
- Finally, pull off the beards (threads on the inside of the shell) from the mussels with a knife.
- Do a final water change and let them drain well in a colander.
- Clean the leek, carrot and onion and cut into small pieces. You can also use pre-made mussel vegetables for this.
- Cut the stems of the parsley into pieces and chop the tops very finely.
- Mix the parsley stems with the rest of the vegetables. Keep the chopped parsley tops aside.
- Divide the mussels over 2 mussel pans and place the vegetables on top of them.
- Pour in a glass of white wine into each pan and add 3 bay leaves per pan. Sprinkle with black pepper, put the lids on and place the pans on the stove.
- Bring to the boil, cover the handles with a kitchen towel and shake the pan a few times.
- Put back on the fire and bring to a boil again. Shake again and add the chopped parsley.
- Repeat the boiling and shaking once, then check that all shells opened properly. If not, cook them for another 2 minutes.
- Open the lid at the table and place it upside down near the pan for the empty shells to be put in there.
Looking for more inspiration? Then see below more recipes with mussels. Or check our fish recipes for even more inspiration.