For the longest time I was afraid to make mussels at home. I was scared off by the fact that just one little bad guy in a pot of otherwise fresh and tasty mussels could wreak such havoc, and I therefore considered it the kind of food which is best left to the experts.
I think it was Anthony Bourdain’s cookbook which first convinced me to try my hand at mussels. In his typically sensitive manner he pointed out that it really wasn’t that hard, and that there were just a few very simple steps one needed to follow in order to prevent any mishaps. Since then I have made mussels dozens of times, and each time I am left wondering why I don’t do it more often. Here is what he taught me:
1. Storing: Once you get the mussels home, if you are not planning to cook them right away, take them out of the plastic bag which they probably came in, rinse them under cold water in a colander, and then place the colander in a bowl and put the mussels in the fridge until you are ready to cook.
2. Prepping: Directly before cooking the mussels, rinse them off again and carefully check them. Remove the beards (if applicable) and make sure any sand or grit is rinsed away so that it doesn’t end up in your broth. Throw away any which are broken or have cracks in the shells. Throw away any which feel suspiciously light. And then throw away any which are not closed, or which do not close when lightly tapped. This is key, ALL of the mussels should be closed before you cook them.
3. Cooking: This step is generally very quick, a few minutes in a pot with a bit of wine or broth and other flavors until they open up.
4. Eating: The only thing to remember here is that you should only eat the mussels which have opened on their own during cooking. Throw away any which are not open, do not try to pry them open. Otherwise, grab yourself some bread to sop up the tasty sauce and enjoy.
See, simple. Still feeling uncertain? This video on epicurious.com does a pretty good job of explaining the process.
Which brings us to this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe, Mussels & Chorizo. This recipe was different from my standard mussels preparation, which is pretty much a basic Moules Marinieres. Instead, Dorie calls for the mussels to be steamed in a quick tomato & white wine sauce, which is spiced up with the addition of chorizo. We helped ourselves to a big pot, served with nothing more than some crusty bread and a big pile of napkins.
Verdict? Tasty! A nice alternative to my standard recipe and much heartier due to all that sausage. In fact, we bought the usual amount of mussels and for the first time ever ended up with leftovers.
Thanks for the great tips – this is the first time that I have ever cooked mussels, and I unfortunately left the beards on (I thought – what is the beard?) and had to remove them afterwards! Your mussles in tomato sauce look devine.
Glad you enjoyed this one! I am not a mussels eater and I didn’t even eat our interpretation of this week’s dish but Mr Neil enjoyed his scallops and chorizo over pasta!
Very nice! I am curious to try the moules mariniere now…
Your dish looks delicious. I’m definitely making this again as a dipping sauce!
I had the same fear of cooking mussels as you before I attempted this. Thanks also for sharing your (or Anthony’s) tips on how to prep and eat mussels, I’ll definitely keep them in mind the next time I try making this dish again!
You’re very welcome. I’m always happy to share tips which have helped me in the past.
Curiously enough, Anthony Bourdain’s bit on mussels in Kitchen Confidential turned me off from ordering mussels in some restaurants. I loved this version, but then again, I loved most mussel dishes. I can’t wait to try the other two Dorie recipes!
Funny, he actually mentions this in his cookbook. Basically his point is that it is safer to prepare the mussels yourself at home because you will presumably be more vigilant than the restaurant.
Yuuuuum. I didn’t know to take them out of the bag before I put them in the fridge. I’ll do that in the future.
Joy actually recommends this as well. According to Joy you need to take them out of the bag so that they do not suffocate, and according to Tony you need to store them in a colander so that they can drain properly.
Beautiful job! It is great to learn that the mussels will keep for awhile in the refrigerator. I was worried about that and so I made sure to cook them the same night. Thank you for the tips. I also didn’t know about taking them out of the bag. I will definitely be making this dish often.
Thanks for the tips and I will refer to your post when I catch up on this recipe. You are a pro.
Great job!! Your pictures are beautiful! Thanks for the great tips. It will make my next go-round easier. Have a great weekend!
Thank you for reminding me of Anthony’s sensitive ways! lol. He’s right. I even Googled it before making this dish as I had ‘issues’. So glad I conquered my fears on this one!
He cracks me up. As long as you don’t mind a little… ok, a lot of profanity, his cookbook is actually very good.
LOL! We just bought one kilo of mussels and just had a handful leftover that wouldn’t have been the case if we hadn’t also made oysters to go with them! 🙂 Mussels aren’t scary or hard to cook… I think its just people that dont really know how to cook and clean them that run into the “bad” ones – or those that find out the hard way that they are allergic… 😦 Great job!
So, what would happen if you ate an already opened one? Just wondering? We didn’t, but I am curious about the fuss.
Mussels are one of those foods which should only be eaten when they are extremely fresh (or which were frozen when they were extremely fresh). An uncooked mussel which will not close up when taped is already dead. And since you can’t know for how long it has been dead, you should throw it away. Mussels which are not fresh can, at best, lend an off flavor to the whole meal and, at worst, give you severe food poisoning. This is the exact same reason why you should not eat cooked mussels which are not open, because it means that they were likely dead before they went into the pot and cannot be trusted.
thanks! I figured it was something along those lines, but didn’t know the details. We all were healthy and happy after the meal, so I guess we did okay!
Your dish looks terrific! This was a lot of fun to make. Great tips, too
Thanks for all the info about safely handing the mussels. It’s funny. I bought these the day before. They came in a nice net bag, but the fish guy put them in a plastic bag to transport to the register. I asked him whether to take them out of the bag when I put them in the fridge. He said no, leave them in the plastic bag. My intuition said not to trust him. The mussels were alive, after all, and I wouldn’t survive a night in a plastic bag. I stored them in a bowl in the fridge covered with a damp towel. Only one needed to be tossed before cooking. I loved this meal. Can’t wait to make it again.
That is exactly Joy’s advice, that they should be stored with a damp towel over them. I know that they will survive for a little while in a plastic bag, just not sure how long, so I tend to take Joy and Mr. Bourdain’s advice.
Oh yes, the sensitivity of Anthony Bourdain! He’s very entertaining though and a good teacher. This was my first time to cook mussels but won’t be my last!
Thanks for the tips! Mine did not work out very well, but I plan on trying them again as soon as I can! Your dish looks delicious!
Great tips on mussels! They really are terrific to cook. We usually make a lighter sauce for them at home, and probably prefer that way. Having said that, I loved the sauce just as a quick pasta sauce. Hope you have a terrific weekend!
I’ve never read a thing by Bourdain so I will change my ways. And, posting the video on working with mussels was genius. Some home cooks are just afraid to give-it-a-go because of all the things you mentioned. Not so scary if we’re just technique-careful. Nice Post.
We love Bourdain at our house! I think this recipe was a total winner, and it reminded me of all the mussels we used to eat when I was a kid.
Love your rundown of considerations – it’s a lot easier than I thought it would be. Which is good, because we will be having them a lot more often now. This recipe is a keeper.
Traveling thru Brussels, we stopped at a restaurant famous for their mussels. I was not into mussels at the time, so hubby enjoyed his plateful, and I had beef stew, which was so tough
I could not eat it. After that we finished with a wonderful waffle on the street, all for nothing.
He was so sick from a bad mussel, he never tried another. This is something to be very
careful about, and when we cook them on Christmas Eve, I am very careful to cook them
I’m so sorry to hear that your husband had such a bad experience. Before I knew how to cook mussels I was more trusting of the professionals to do it for me. Now that I know how to do it, I actually trust myself more because I know how careful I am and I really wonder if a cook back in a busy kitchen during the dinner rush could possibly be as careful.
Great tips! I loved this one, too 🙂
Thank you for posting the helpful tips! I’ve never been quite sure of the proper proper way to store them. Like, should I made a little acquarium in the fridge or something complete with seaweed? 🙂 Now I know, thanks!