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What are mussels like?

I've always wanted to try mussels but think I might not like them. Are they similar to clams? Stronger flavor? Do you chew them or kind of swallow them whole? I'm just wondering if you can compare them to another food for me. Is there a certain dish I should try for the first time? Thank you for your help.

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  1. Larger and much softer than clams, with a muscle at one edge that is very much like a clam. The flavor is comparable, but maybe tastes a little more of the sea.

    I've known few people who didn't like them. First time, you should have the classic: Mussels Mariniere. Millions of recipes out there.

    1. Different from clams and oysters in that I've never heard of them being eaten uncooked. They're quite mild. You don't swallow them, the texture is soft but a bit chewy when they're prepared right. Sorry to contradict the last poster, but in general they are much smaller than clams.

      Definitely a "chicken of the seafood world" in terms of flavor.

      The classic dish is moules mariniere, here's a link, but there are tons of recipes out there.


      My family are big fish eaters, but we'd never tried mussels until my brother came back from Europe in the late 70's and told my Mom about the fabulous meal he'd had in a French bistro. I think she used the recipe in the old Joy of Cooking, and we were all immediately converted. Just be sure to keep an eye on them while they're steaming, as they can overcook very easily. Have grilled French or Italian bread to soak up the sauce!

      If you decide to try them in a restaurant, remember Anthony Bourdain's advice - never order the mussels special, and especially not on a Monday - it means they've been sitting around too long.

      8 Replies
      1. re: pasuga

        I've only heard of mussels being cooked. I really like them better than clams. They are fairly tender cooked. The Belgians are the real mussel eaters. I happened to meet a Belgian guy at a concert in Paris years ago and he talked me into going to Brussels to see the same singer perform a couple of nights later. He ordered a dish called (I think) mussels nostalgique (something like that). Wow! Very tasty broth. He told me that you should get the meat out of the first mussel and used the hinged empty shells as forceps to pull the meat out of the following mussels. Worked well and he seemed impressed as I was spooning up the broth later to sip. The funny thing was he ordered a steak after sounding like a mussel freak. Give it a shot or go with a friend and ask them to spare a couple. I think you'll like them.

        1. re: Feed_me

          i've been doing the mussel shell tweezer thing for years and have passed it on to numerous people. i'm really surprised this technique hasn't caught on more widely as it makes mussel eating sooo muchs easier.

          1. re: ScubaSteve

            i always found it more of a pain in the butt, personally.

            what i do do is take all the mussels out of the shell before eating (well of course i eat a few as im doing it) so i can just get my spoon in there and go instead of having to pick each out as i go. also makes it easier to have some broth w/ every mussel

            1. re: thew

              now that sounds like a lot of work.

              1. re: ScubaSteve

                its the exact same amount of work, isn't it? i mean every mussel needs to come out of the shell anyway. this way im getting a healthy bit of broth with the mussels together

                1. re: thew

                  i guess the total amount of work done is the same but to do it all up front is too much for me. i guess if i did it your way i'd finish shelling them and then NomNomNom, 30 seconds later, All Gone.

                  i like the liesurely use of my mussel-shell tongs and i take the broth with the nearest crusty bread along the way.

                  1. re: ScubaSteve

                    Interesting. I've never done the tweezer thing. I rip the top part of the shell off, then use the bottom to scoop up some sauce, then sip the sauce while using my teeth to separate the mussel from the shell. Definitely not the neatest way to eat them, but gets a good broth to mussel ratio in each bite.

            2. re: ScubaSteve

              I'll try the tweezer. But so far I've just used fingers or a fork, and can plow through them just about as fast as I could eat them, so I've always been a happy camper. It's not like lobster or crab, where there really is some work involved in getting out the smaller bits.

        2. Agreed with all other posts. Mild, tender, always cooked. Look for a marinara or a white wine/garlic sauce both with a good french bread to sop up the yummy sauce with. I would like to add, however that once they are frozen, they are totally ruined IMO. They are one bivalve that turn into garbage once frozen IMO. I can spot a frozen mussel after one bite. They get really firm, almost rigid. I just can't do frozen mussels. Not worth it in my book.

          1. Awww, gon on, take the plunge! You know you want to. NO ONE can tell you what they taste like. All they're really telling you is whether or not they like them. Wade in and try them for yourself. Me? I LOVE them! But what do I know?

            1. soft, briney, creamier in flavor than other bivalves, and perhaps slightly fishier . they talk well to almost any assortment of flavors - look at this menu - the technique for all of these is pretty much the same, but the favor profiles vary widely:

              1. I grew up not eating much seafood. Once in my 20's I got into food and cooking and began to explore new foods. Shrimp was my first seafood "like" and then calamari, lobster, crab, etc. Mussels were the first mollusc that I liked the flavor of. They are milder than clams, in my opinion, and have a soft, chewy texture. I now eat clams and oysters too but I like mussels the best.

                I would suggest you try a mussels marinara or mussels with some other hearty broth/sauce. As opposed to the white wine & garlic or mariniere sauces which are very light and highlight the mussels flavor. The marinara sauce, on the other hand, will be more familiar to you and will therefore be more appealing.

                1. Bigger than clams and with a similar but stronger flavour (and often a bit chewier).

                  Assuming you're buying them fresh (and really there's no other way), then clean them of any barnacles and pull out the wispy beard. Discard any that are open and don't close if you give them a hard tap.

                  Lots of ways to prepare - but easiest is just in some softened onion, a good splash of white wine and parsley. Put the pan lid on for a couple of minutes and cook on high heat. Should be ready in a couple of minutes (when they should have opened - discard any still closed). The French and French-speaking Belgians call this style mariniere. You can happily substitute a lager style beer for the wine. Or use a garlic/tomato base sauce to cook them.

                  A kilo of them is usually a meal for two with crusty bread. Or a starter for four. One of the quickest dishes you'll ever put on the table (leaving aside the de-bearding time)

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Harters

                    I echo the clean and discard message. I once had a batch of wild mussels and bit into one that I knew immediately was not kosher - and like the singer of the found a peanut song ate it anyways. Later that night I decorated the bedroom ceiling with projectile vomiting. Reminiscent of my younger days hanging off the porcelain altar after a night of unrestrained youthful imbibing.

                    1. re: slacker1

                      Cooking at home is normally OK - as you know the provenance. Mussels sold near me have usually been rope grown 90 minutes drive away so can be assumed to be fresh. It's the buggers you eat in restaurants that catch you out some hours later - almost nothing worse (Mrs H has had two bad experiences - one in Barcelona, one near home - both probably attributable to a bad mussel

                    2. re: Harters

                      I was taught that you should not remove the beard prior to cooking steaming them. It damages the mussel. It is better and easier to remove them afterwards.

                      I prefer to steam them no matter what I am cooking. It also allows you to inspect them and discard before chucking into whatever you want. You can heighten the visual aspect by serving them in 'snail dishes'. Put three in each shell, add a little garlic cheese sauce and grill.

                      I am not that good on diet food.

                      1. re: Harters

                        Funny, I think they have a milder flavor and are more palatable than clams.

                      2. You seem to have gotten the full complement of descriptions, so I won't add to it, I'll just say they're really, really tasty when you steam them in clam juice, ground pepper and garlic .

                        1. There are some differences in opinion regarding size. The fresh Pen Cove ones you find in the Seattle area are about 1" to 1 1/2" long. The frozen green shell ones from NZ or Chile are larger. Clams come in a large range of sizes, from small steamers to the Puget Sound monster geoduck.

                          So typically a mussel can be eaten in one bite, but there is nothing wrong with cutting one in half.

                          Maybe it's my frugality, but I like them all, fresh or frozen. The last ones I bought were thawed, fully cooked, and out of the shell, from 99Ranch (regional Asian chain). I ate them cold for half a week, dipped in mayo, or romesco, or cut up in a salad.

                          1. Thanks for all the responses! They sound really good and now I am ready to try them!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Boychucker

                              The tastiest of all the bivalves! The green ones are the best.

                              1. re: Boychucker

                                I would just say - sometimes you can get a couple of mealy ones - if you do, just keep on tasting until you hit a good one.

                              2. Prepare them and learn which people are OCD. They stack the mussels shells inside each other in two separate piles, lefts and rights

                                If you want to drift away from all these tomato / wine sauce advocates, if you want to run at the edge of the pack, then lightly batter, coat with a few bread crumbs and deep fry. Drizzle with a little garlic butter.

                                The sea washes all the calories away.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Paulustrious

                                  Good to get the confirmation that I don't have OCD.

                                  I have fond memories of sitting on the terrace of restaurants in the Grote Markt in Ieper eating mussels. They come in a vast pan with a large lid (which serves as the discard bowl). Alongside another vast bowl of frietjes, served with a dish of mayo and another of something akin to 1000 Island or Marie Rose sauce. I always try to ensure visits are when its mussel season.

                                  1. re: Harters

                                    That threw me for a minute. Couldn't think of a place called Leper, although that is a very Dutch looking word. Got it now - Wipers.

                                    We used to eat them where I lived. They grew by the countless thousands round the North West coast, especially North Wales. They were millions along the Mersey Estuary, but they were too contaminated. We used to dig the clams out of the vast beaches of the Lancashire shoreline. I guess you don't see so many people doing that these days.

                                    Cockles and mussels, Alive alive oh: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQz8R4...

                                    1. re: Paulustrious

                                      Yep - that's Ieper with an eye, not Ieper with an ell. I always try to use the Dutch words when I'm there - the Flemish are not that keen on the Francophone part of the country.

                                      Most of our locally sold mussels come from the North Wales coast - either around Conwy or Anglesey.

                                      Dangerous business getting seafood from the Lancashire coast as this 2004 story recalls:

                                      1. re: Harters

                                        I see you are from the politically correct school of Conway spellers. I spend a lot of time there. That was our Summer holiday spot. Thanks for the memories, Harters. And that's where we gathered the mussels. And when you got them they were all glued together in big clumps, tied together by hundres of 'strings'

                                        I also lived in Lytham St Annes and Warton. Its hard to explain to someone who`s never seen it how the tide can go in and out for 5 miles twice a day. People haven`t see a beach miles deep and and a seventy miles long.

                                        1. re: Paulustrious

                                          I've recently been admonished, by an e-friend for spelling Caernarfon in the English style so am now ultra-careful.

                                          Although I can't pronounce Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, but do drive through the village a couple of times a year. It has a decent chippy (to keep on food).

                                2. Another nice thing about mussels: in a land of no fresh seafood (hell, around here, people think fish are caught square-shaped and covered with crust @@) you usually can find pretty decent frozen mussels in ANY Asian grocery store (of which we have plenty...). Can't say the same for clams at all.

                                  Oh, and I steamed mussels in wine, garlic, parsley AND butter ("you never can have too much butter") for Christmas Eve one year and made two very suspicious eaters very, very happy--once we got them to dig in, that is.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Beckyleach

                                    don't forget the crusty bread to soak up the broth...mmmm