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You Should Be Eating Mussels. Here's Why (and How to Cook Them)

Christopher Ehlers READ TIME: 4 MIN.

Thanks to advances in farmed seafood and some really excellent frozen options, mussels are a delicacy that can be enjoyed year-round. But did you know that fall is the ideal time to chow down on some fresh mussels?

According to a recent article published by CNN, mussels reach their point of maturation later in the year following a period of spawning that occurs in the spring and the summer, which means that as the weather gets cooler, the plumpest and most flavorful mussels are ripe for the taking.

So while fall may be the ideal time to indulge, mussels are a good option year-round given their nutritional value. Low in fat and calories and high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, mussels are a lot healthier than most people realize. "Think about it this way," said Joshua Stoll, associate professor at the University of Maine's school of marine sciences and cofounder of the Local Catch Network. "Mussels take about as long to cook as a hot dog but have more than two times more protein, as well as a diverse array of micronutrients."

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In addition to their healthfulness, they're also incredibly affordable and sustainable. "Mussels are filter feeders, so they actually help keep the environment healthy," Stoll added. Believe it or not, mussels remove impurities from the water surrounding them and produce significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than other farmed protein sources.

For those wishing to prepare mussels at home, here's your guide:

Mussels are alive until you cook them, and it's important to keep them alive and breathing until cooking time. When you get home, you should immediately remove them from any bag or container that they've been packaged in. They don't need to be on ice, but they do need to stay cold. CNN recommends pouring them in a colander and then nesting the colander inside a large bowl. This will keep them cool but not sitting in water, which will kill them. Instead, cover them with a damp dish towel and refrigerate up to 24 hours.

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Just before you're ready to cook, scrub each mussel gently with a brush or toothbrush under cool running water and then transfer to a colander to let the water drip away. Each mussel should be closed; if you find one that's open, gently tap it against the counter. If it doesn't close within a few minutes, throw it away. Similarly, if you find any cracked shells, throw those way, too.

While most methods of cooking mussels involve steaming, the ingredients you choose to steam them with are highly customizable. The following is a basic roadmap with standard flavors for two pounds of mussels:

  • About 2 tablespoons fat for sauteing, typically olive oil or butter.
  • A handful of aromatics such as garlic, shallots, onions, or leeks.
  • Liquid for steaming, such as white wine, broth, beer, or cider. About 1 cup will give you enough left over for dunking and sipping.

    Heat oil or butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat, adding in the aromatics and cooking for a few minutes until they start to soften. Then, pour in the liquid, increase the heat, and simmer. When the liquid reaches a nice simmer, add in the mussels, cover the pot, and cook for 8-10 minutes until all the mussels have opened. Toss any mussels that don't open.

    Using this technique, you can customize the recipe however you want. You can add some tomatoes to the broth, or throw in some cream and chorizo, or even use coconut milk. The sky's the limit with this versatile mollusk.

    by Christopher Ehlers

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