A Strong Choice
By Ann Ogden
Mussels are loaded with good nutrition for very few calories. They are usually restaurant food, which is a shame, not just because they so easy to cook, but because of their great nutrition value. High in protein and low in fat, mussels are rich in minerals such as selenium, potassium and iron, and also B vitamins, especially B12, all things our bodies need to stay healthy but that are hard to get in quantity from plant sources. In fact, ounce for ounce mussels have more of these nutrients than steak.
Mussels are living things, and as with all shellfish, they need to stay that way until they are cooked. Eating a bad one can cause great discomfort. If you’re not used to handling them, here’s how to avoid problems:
- First of all, if you’re not at the beach, only buy live shellfish from a store with a lot of foot traffic (for fast turnover) and a good reputation for fresh seafood.
- When you get the mussels home from the market, pick through them. Discard any that are broken, and put the rest straight into a bowl of cold salted water and let them sit in the fridge for an hour or so. This will encourage them to spit out any grit and sand. Some French cooks add a tablespoon of flour to the water too to ‘feed’ them. When you are ready to cook, drain and clean.
- Most mussels are sold pre-cleaned, but it pays to check them over. If they have brown seaweedy fibers or “beard” around the rims of their shells, run them ‘round with a sharp knife to remove them. Tap any open mussels sharply with your knife. Tapping makes them think you’re a hungry seabird and all the live ones will close. Make sure to discard any that stay open. Put all the remaining cleaned mussels into a fresh bowl of salted water. When you are ready to cook, drain them.
After cooking discard any mussels that stay closed. This means they weren’t alive to start with and should not be eaten. They won’t affect the edibility of the rest of the mussels in the pot. All this checking and discarding is very important; your stomach will thank you for it.