January 13

The Taste & Texture of Mussels Explained

Written by: Savannah

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Whether you’re new to shellfish, or you simply haven’t gotten around to the mussel yet, this is one mollusk you won’t want to miss out on.

While the texture of a mussel is a bit more unique than your average meat, the flavor is unparalleled.

Let’s dive in.

What are Mussels?

mussels

Mussels are a mollusk and a bivalve which, in layman's terms, simply means they are small shellfish.

Mussels boast a distinctive sleek black shell and a scraggly beard. The meat inside a mussel is small, only about one bite.


What Do Mussels Taste Like?

Traditionally, mussels are steamed with wine or beer, and some broth - and usually infused with garlic and shallots.

The taste of a mussel itself is savory, salty, and briny. But the broth that the mussels make as they steam in the above-mentioned liquid is absolutely to die for.

You will dip your bread in it again and again saying “what is this goodness?” As you go in for just one more bite!


What is a Mussels Texture?

spooning-out-mussel-meat

The meat of a mussel is just that: A muscle - And it works and works throughout its life, opening and closing the shell.

Because it works a lot, the muscle is going to be on the tougher side, but don’t let that deter you.

When you take a bite of mussel meat, you will find it to be quite chewy. 

Some people absolutely adore this texture, while others order mussels for the nearly religious experience of sopping up the amazing broth with some crusty bread.

If the chewy texture of a mussel just isn't for you, you might try scallops!


How Can I Tell if a Mussel is Bad?

mussels-in-the-ocean

There are a few tell-tale signs of bad mussel:


A Mussel that is Cracked or Broken Should Be Thrown Out

Sometimes mussels are handled too roughly and their shells are broken. You don’t want to eat these, throw them out before cooking.


A Mussel that Won’t Close When Tapped Firmly Against the Counter

Mussels should be kept alive right up until they’re cooked (don’t worry, they aren’t sentient creatures). 

When a mussel is alive, it will close its shell to protect itself when you firmly tap it against a hard surface. If the mussel does not close, it's dead and you’ll want to throw it out.


A Mussel that Doesn’t Open After it’s Cooked

There is some controversy about whether or not it's safe to eat a mussel that doesn’t open up after it’s cooked.

While some people swear that you can just pry them open and eat them, others say they are best avoided if you want to be on the safe side. A personal call, really.


What is the “Beard” on a Mussel?


What passes for a beard on a mussel is closer to a few long whiskers on a young boy. Though worn very proudly, in the end, it simply isn’t all that impressive.

The beard of a mussel is a few sticky strands that the creature uses to attach itself to surfaces.

It’s not inedible, per say, but it's definitely not a desirable texture and the beard is best removed before cooking.

Though most grocery stores will do this for you, to remove a mussels beard, simply gather up the strands of the beard and grasp them near the shell. Pull firmly downward and the beard should pop loose.


How Do I Store Mussels? How Long Will They Last?

Mussels will last for 2-3 days in the fridge if stored properly. Check the “best by” date on your mussels to be sure.

  • If your mussels come in a mesh bag, then your job just got a whole lot easier! To store your mussels, keep them in the mesh bag and store them in a bowl with a damp cloth over the top.


  • If your mussels did not come in a breathable mesh bag, put them loose in a bowl or container. Cover them with a damp cloth.

  • Drain your mussels daily as they release water naturally and you don’t want the ones on the bottom to drown (yes, this actually can happen).

  • Never keep your mussels in an airtight bag or container as they will suffocate.

How Do I Prepare Mussels?

mussels-in-frying-pan

Cooking mussels is very simple. Make sure they are clean, de-bearded, and that you’ve checked each one to make sure it’s alive.

1

Step 1 

Thinly slice some garlic and a bit of shallot. Find a pot with a lid that can comfortably hold your mussels and add a bit of oil to the bottom.

2

Step 2 

Sauté the garlic and shallot over medium heat for a few minutes. Then dump in the mussels and add a ½ cup of beer or wine, and another ½ - 1 cup of a good broth, or water if it's what’s on hand.

3

Step 3 

Bring the liquid to a vigorous simmer and firmly put the lid in place. Allow the mussels to steam for 3-5 minutes.

4

Step 4 

Remove the lid and check to see that the mussels have all opened.

5

Step 5

Turn the heat off and season to taste with salt, pepper, and any other flavorings you’d like. Stir in a pat of butter for a richer broth, and serve the mussels with plenty of crusty bread for dipping.

Try this recipe for more details, or the video below if that's more your speed. 

Easy-to-Follow Classic Mussel Recipe

What is a Green-Lipped Mussel?


A green-lipped mussel is a type of mussel native to New Zealand with pretty green edges.

Extracts from green-lipped mussels are considered to be anti-inflammatory and are currently being researched for use as a supplement.


Where Can I Get Mussels?

fresh-fish-on-ice

These days, mussels are widely available at most grocery store seafood counters. They will likely be in plentiful supply if you live near a fish market as well. 

Be sure to call ahead if you’re approaching a holiday as mussels tend to be popular for special occasions.


Conclusion

Mussels are a small type of shellfish classified as a mollusk and a bivalve. They have a delicious, savory, briny flavor and are wonderful when steamed.

Mussels are readily available in most grocery stores and must be stored in breathable containers, and drained regularly to keep them alive.

Do not eat mussels that are broken, or do not close when firmly tapped.

Cook mussels in broth with a bit of beer or wine and some aromatics. Serve with crusty bread for dipping.

Happy cooking!

Savannah


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About the author

Savannah grew up in Kansas City, where she learned to cook brisket and ribs from her Mom and Grandmother. She's spent the last 10 years in the restaurant industry where she worked her way up from prep cook to Chef instructor. In 2017, Savannah and her partner sold everything that wouldn't fit in their suburban and traveled the US where she got a job cooking in each city they stayed in. Savannah has trained under more than 50 chefs and done everything from running a food truck to making chocolate. She currently runs her own cottage bakery and teaches cooking classes in Northern Colorado.

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