Purchasing, storing and preparing mussels

When purchasing fresh mussels, ask the retailer to let you have a good look at them. Very fresh mussels will have tightly closed shells, or shells that close tightly when squeezed or tapped. If a shell doesn’t close, or if it’s cracked, it means the mussel is dead and should
not be purchased.

I always buy fresh mussels the day I’m planning to cook them. However, if they’re very fresh (ask the retailer when they came in) they could be stored for up to a day in the refrigerator. To refrigerate mussels, first remove them from their store packaging, set them in a bowl and cover them with a damp cloth, but they shouldn’t sit in water.

When you’re ready to cook the mussels, rinse them thoroughly in cold water and pull off any beard-like material attached to the shells. Examine the mussels again and discard any that do not close tightly when squeezed or tapped.

Whether steamed or simmered in a sauce, the moment a mussel opens it is cooked. If a mussel doesn’t open, it’s another indication that it’s dead and should not be eaten. If you continue to cook mussels once they’ve opened — as with other seafood such as shrimp — their meat will toughen and shrink.

Mussels with Prosciutto and Pesto Tomato Sauce

If you serve the mussels on their own, with some crusty bread for dunking, they’ll serve two to three as main course. If you serve them on a bed of pastas, such as linguini, they should serve four.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2–4

  • 1 (28 oz/796 mL) can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
  • 4 slices prosciutto, diced
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) homemade or store-bought pesto
  • 2 lb (1 kg) fresh mussels
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh parsley

Place the diced tomatoes, wine, tomato paste, olive oil, prosciutto and pepper in a pot. Bring to a slow simmer - do not boil - and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the pesto. Add the mussels, cover and cook until they just open, about 2 to 3 minutes Sprinkle servings of the mussels with parsley.

Eric’s options: If you can’t have alcohol, replace the wine with an equal amount of chicken or fish stock.