Mussels are slender blue-black bivalves found on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. In their natural state, mussels attach themselves to surf-washed rocks. They spend half the time submerged and half the time in the air as the tide comes and goes.
Low in fat, rich in protein, mussels supply an exceptional amount of vitamin B12. They are also a rich source of iron and selenium. Other nutrients in mussels include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Mussels in the National Nutrient Database.
Types of mussels
Because mussels are severely affected by pollutants, they are now commercially farmed in “safe” waters. There are two types of mussels commonly available in stores.
Blue mussels: The most abundant of dozens of mussel species, these are found along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Beneath their thin shells lies sweet tender flesh.
Greenshell mussels: Originally known as New Zealand green-lipped mussels, this imported variety sports a bright green shell and is considerably larger than blue mussels.
How to choose the best mussels
Mussels are available year round. But in late spring, when mussels spawn, they tend to be of inferior quality.
Mussel shells should be tightly closed, or should close tightly when the shell is tapped. Don’t buy any with open or cracked shells. Freshly shucked mussels should smell perfectly fresh, with no trace of ammonia or a “fishy” smell.
How to store mussels
When you buy mussels, it is imperative to keep them alive—or cold—until you are ready to cook and serve them. Store them in the refrigerator (if possible at 32° to 35°), covered with wet kitchen towels. Don’t put them in an airtight container or submerge them in fresh water, or they will die. Cold mussels should keep in a live state for four to seven days. Look for open shells during that period and remove those mussels. They’re dead and you don’t want them to contaminate the others. Shucked mussels should be kept in tightly covered containers, immersed in their juice, for a day or two.
How to cook mussels
Mussels are most commonly cooked in their shells. To prepare them for use, scrub the shells and with a stiff brush if necessary. Pull the stringy “beards”—the fibrous dark tufts protruding from the shells—out of the mussels. Scrape any tough encrustation from the shells with a sturdy knife. Rinse under cold running water.
4 Ways to Serve Mussels
- Mussels pair beautifully with linguine. It’s a classic for a reason. Try them with lemon and olive oil and some Parmesan cheese, or with a simple tomato sauce.
- Steam mussels in a white wine and garlic sauce.
- Try putting mussels on the grill with herbs and a squeeze of lemon.
- Make a mussel paella with lots of vegetables.
Also see this recipe: Hot and Spicy Mussels.