If you are a big fan of shellfish, then you may have enjoyed a plate of mussels at one time or another. Mussels are very succulent and have that umami flavor that lingers in your mouth after eating them, if these are cooked right. What some people may not realize is that while mussels are relatively easy to cook, they are also very easy to ruin when not cooked properly.
How do you cook mussels to come up with the perfect flavor and texture? Here are 15 tips and tricks to remember when you are planning on cooking these bivalves:
Ensure that the mussels you buy are fresh – freshness is the key to the perfect plate of mussels, and there are a few ways for you to determine whether or not the ones you have are fresh. At the very start, before you chuck these into a pot to cook, rummage through the batch to see if there are open ones. If there are, give these mussels a light tap with the back of a spoon. If these close when you do that, these are fresh, but if these do not close, throw those out.
Another way to determine if mussels are fresh is after you cook these. If shells remain closed after these are cooked, chances are, these mussels were dead before you put them in the pan. These need to be thrown out.
Clean your bivalves before cooking – most of the time, the mussels that you buy are cleaned by the time you get them. You just have to make sure, however, that every little bit of sand, dirt, and beard is removed before you cook these. What you need to do is to put this in a colander and wash these with running water while taking each one out and scrubbing the outside with steel wool. Check each one for the usual beard that comes with mussels and pull out any that you can find.
Simmer don’t boil – one mistake some people make when cooking mussels is they cook it in boiling liquid. Since the most common method for cooking mussels is by steaming, the liquid in the pot should not boil but rather simmer. A simmer can be easily achieved by first placing your pot on the stove on medium high heat. After you add your liquid in, get it to boil. Once it starts to boil, you should then lower the heat to medium or low, just enough for the liquid to stay hot and to steam.
Place the mussels in after the liquid has been added – do not make the mistake of adding in mussels at the same time as your cooking liquid, or adding in the liquid after you place the mussels in the pan. Always add your liquid in before you add in the mussels. That is the proper cooking progression.
Do not put in too much liquid – another thing that you need to remember is to not drown your mussels in the cooking liquid. How do you determine how much liquid to put into your pot? Always use a medium sized pot and add just enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pot for every 2 lbs. of mussels. Usually, this amounts to half a cup. The mussels will sweat out their juices while cooking, so there is no need to add to much liquid to your pot during the cooking process.
Do not use plain water when cooking – some people use water when cooking their mussels, which is a huge mistake. In order to bring out the flavor of your bivalves, you should cook these with good white wine or some chicken stock. You can season the liquid to taste before adding in the mussels.
Use aromatics and herbs when cooking mussels – another good tip to remember is aromatics make your mussels taste and smell better. The go-to group of aromatics to use includes shallots, leeks, garlic, a couple of bay leaves, and some thyme. You can experiment with the kinds of aromatics and herbs you use for your version of steamed mussels. Some people add some lemon and ginger in theirs, while a few more add white onions and fennel to the mix.
Always cover the pot when steaming your mussels – do not let that flavorful steam escape from your pot when cooking mussels. The correct way to cook mussels is in a covered pan with simmering liquid in it. As soon as you drop these tasty shellfish into the cooking liquid, cover the pot immediately. With the lid on, it will only take a maximum of 7 minutes to cook the entire batch of mussels in the steaming hot liquid.
Don’t open the pot to stir but shake the pot to mix – opening the pot in order to stir the mussels in the cooking liquid is a big no-no. Instead, you should get a kitchen towel or a potholder and simply shake the pot on the stove to slosh around the cooking liquid over the mussels.
Thicken and enrich the broth before serving – while the cooking liquid that the mussels come in is good as it is, it can actually be better. What you need to do is to remove the mussels from the liquid and set these aside. Turn the heat off and stir the liquid with two tablespoons of butter and half a cup of heavy cream. Once the butter has dissolved and the cream has been incorporated totally, put the mussels back into the warm pot, stir to mix, and serve.
Always serve your mussels with slices of crusty bread – the perfect accompaniment to perfectly cooked mussels is fresh, crusty bread. The bread is used as the vessel for the shucked mussel meat, and it can sop up that wonderful enriched mussel liquid at the bottom of the pot. What you do is dip one end of your crusty bread into the liquid, remove the meat of one mussel from its shell, place it on top of the bread where it has absorbed the liquid, and enjoy.
Other Ways to Prepare Your Mussels
The most common and most flavorful way to cook your mussels is with the use of the method mentioned above. This is the classic way and has been used by many seasoned chefs and aspiring home cooks time and again. You can add your own spin to this basic recipe, however, and add other flavors that you feel will make your mussels taste better.
If you want the mussels to have some fiery flavors in them, do not hesitate to cook these with a dash or two of cayenne pepper or some hot sauce. Want some surf and turf action in your pot of seafood instead? You can add in some Italian sausage or even some flavorful andouille sausage. Don’t want to use wine or broth for your liquid? A good stout or some beer will do just fine.
You can also play around with the kinds of herbs that you use here. You can use some basil for a more Italian flavor, or you can also add thyme, rosemary, and lemon for a more French flavor. Want a more hearty and American taste? Instead of using butter to sweat your aromatics, why not render some bacon fat instead. Another option is to add beer after the onions and other aromatics have caramelized properly before adding in the mussels.
You can also choose to cook these mussels the original way, and instead of thickening the sauce with cream, remove the mussels completely from the liquid and grill these over charcoal for a smoky flavor. You can pour lemon butter sauce over these or serve lemon and melted butter for these on the side. You can also broil steamed mussels in their shell with butter and some sharp cheese on top.