While we might think of mussels as traditionally French fare when served up with a white wine sauce, they’re actually enjoyed in various forms all around the world. In Belgium they’re traditionally served as ‘Moules-Frites’ with French fries, and in the Netherlands they can be served fried in batter or breadcrumbs to give them a crispy coating. During the Second World War mussels were often served up in US diners – not what you’d think of as traditional diner food, but red meat was scarce due to rationing and mussels made a tasty protein-packed alternative!
In the UK we grow mussels suspended from ropes in seawater - not touching the bottom of the sea means they don’t pick up grit and barnacles from the seabed. The Fish is the Dish team recently took a visit out to a mussel farm in Loch Fyne in Scotland and from afar.
Here’s how a mussel farm looks – yep, there’s not much to see from the shore but there’s a lot going on under the water!
There’s an old myth about only eating mussels in months of the year that have an ‘R’ in their name but actually whatever the season, rain or shine, mussels are perfect to enjoy any day of the year. The majority of the mussels we consume are farmed and companies work hard to maintain their consistent quality 365 days of the year, so buy away!
When you’re buying fresh mussels choose ones without chipped or damaged shells and select tightly closed mussels if possible. You’ll need about 500g of mussels per person if you’re serving them as a main course, less if they’re for a starter. Fresh mussels don’t really keep for any length of time, so try to buy them on the day you’ll be eating them. Don’t store mussels in tap water for any length of time since this will destroy them, but instead store them at the bottom of your fridge with a wet towel over them.
When it’s time to prepare them, give the shells a thorough scrub to clean them. If any of the mussels are open then give them a sharp tap and if they don’t close then throw them away – this is very important as any that stay open are dead and not suitable for cooking. If you see a clump of fibrous strands in the hinge of the mussels shell then just pinch and remove it, or snip it off (this is called a ‘beard’ and is how the mussel was attached to the rope or rock it grew on). When cooked, all the mussels should be open and you should throw away any that are still closed.
We’ve got some fantastic mussel recipes on the site for you to pick from! You could go for a classic Moules Marinière or for an alternative without alcohol try these fruity and delicious Apple-y Mussels. How about Mussels with Creamy White Wine Sauce, Served on a Bed of Tagliatelle, or if you’re feeling super fancy then we have a recipe from chef Mark Greenaway for Pan Roasted Hake with a Mussel Broth that’s certain to impress!
If you want to cook mussels the super easy way then lots of supermarkets now also do chilled vacuum-packed pouches of mussels in a ready-made sauce, perfect for the nervous first time buyer! There’s several ways to cook them but the simplest is just to pop the pouch of mussels in the microwave for a few minutes – it really couldn’t be easier.
You can also buy frozen cooked mussels of good quality now and these can include the New Zealand greenlip mussels, which are bigger than the native UK ones and have a different, sweeter taste. You’ll also find tinned and jarred cooked mussels on sale which are fantastic for popping in the store cupboard since they have a long shelf life.
We definitely enjoyed our steaming bowls of mussels during our Loch Fyne trip, so take a look at the rest of our yummy mussels recipes, be inspired, and exercise your mussel power!