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How to Clean Mussels in 6 Steps

Cleaning mussels is a relatively simple process that takes a short amount of time. Not to mention, it is the best time to do quality control on your fresh mussels.

What Are Mussels?

Part of the Mytilidae family, a mussel is a bivalve mollusk with a dark blue-black hinged shell that’s long and oval. While typically farmed, mussels are often found along exposed shores of cold water in intertidal zones around the world, clinging to dock pilings and rocky outcrops in the water. Green mussels are found in both Asia and New Zealand. Though similar in appearance to the conventional navy variety, freshwater mussels are a slightly different species and generally not consumed. When cooked and eaten, mussels have a briny, savory taste reminiscent of the sea, but they should never taste fishy.

How to Clean Mussels

If you've purchased fresh mussels from the grocery store still in their shells, follow this step-by-step guide for cleaning your mussels before you consume them:

  1. 1. Store your mussels. Ideally, you should prepare your mussels within 24 hours of purchasing them. However, if you want to keep them fresh for a couple of hours in the fridge, you want to make sure you keep them cold and wet without sitting them in a pool of water. Keep them in the same mesh container you bought them in and wrap them in a wet paper towel in the fridge. Alternatively, you can put the mussel bag in a colander full of ice over a bowl to catch the water as the ice melts.

  2. 2. Examine your mussels. You only want to cook mussels that aren’t damaged or dead; each mussel you cook should be alive. Begin by unwrapping your mussels to allow them to breathe. Check your mussels for any chips in their shells and inspect if any have already opened. If a mussel is slightly open, tap on the shell lightly. If the shell closes on its own, it’s good to cook. If not, it’s dead. Discard the dead mussels.

  3. 3. Soak your mussels. Soak your mussels in a bowl of cold tap water for around twenty minutes. This allows the mussels to expel any extra sediment, sand, or salt lingering inside their shells.

  4. 4. Remove the beards. The byssal threads attached to the insides of a fresh mussel are beards, and you need to remove them before you cook your mussels. To debeard your mussels, pick one up in one hand with a towel. With your opposite hand, pull the threads towards the hinge end of the shell, which should snap them off. Don't pull towards the opening end of the mussel shell, as this can damage the mussel.

  5. 5. Soak the mussels a second time. Remove your mussels from the first bowl of water and submerge them in a fresh bowl of clean, cold water. You may find yourself tempted to tip your mussels out into a colander to drain them, but the water will have collected sand at the bottom, and tipping the water out over the mussels will cover them in sand again. Instead, pick your mussels out of the dirty water to put them in the freshwater. You can also use a slotted spoon to remove your mussels from the water.

  6. 6. Scrub your mussels. Use a firm scrubbing brush to scrub any excess dirt or sand from your mussels. Hold your cleaned mussels under running water and then place them on a kitchen towel or paper towel to dry.

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