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Mussels are bivalve shellfish that can be found in lakes, rivers, creeks, intertidal areas, and throughout the ocean. The saltwater mussels (family Mytilidae) and freshwater mussels (family Unionidae) are not thought to be closely related despite considerable similarities in appearance. Mussels are filter feeders, and tend to absorb any toxic chemicals and pollutants from the water pumped through them. For cooking purposes:

  • mollusks deteriorate rapidly and if not cooked right away may lead to infections in the mollusk tissues
  • Make sure that the lake or river source of the mussels is not polluted and that the mussels are not diseased.
  • to test a mussel for freshness, try sliding the two halves of the shell across each other. If they move at all, then the shell is probably filled with mud
  • wash mussels by agitating them in a colander with running cold water
  • scrub mussel shells with a stiff brush
  • mussels may be steamed, removed from the shell, or served in the shell with or without sauce.

To avoid danger of food poisoning, when cooking mussels the following two "chef's rules" should always be adhered to:

  • before cooking, discard any mussels where the shells are open (including those which are cracked)
  • and discard any mussels which did not open during cooking (in other words, if the're still closed after cooking - get rid of them).

Cleaning and eating mussels


Here are some safety guidelines for buying, eating and cooking live bivalves (mussels and clams):

  • Never buy a mussel/clam that's open or cracked.
  • Never eat a mussel/clam that won't open after cooking.
  • Cook mussels/clams within 24 hours of purchasing.
  • Always brush mussels/clams clean before cooking. Remove beards from mussels as well.

For more on this subject have a look at Happy as a clam by Chef Mark R. Vogel

Mussel recipes