Monday 16 April 2012

Naturally Gluten Free Mussels - How To Clean and Prepare

fresh mussels
Freshly Bought
If you're buying mussels to cook yourself you'll usually buy them in a mesh bag. They're available during the colder months of the year here in the UK so you'll probably see them on supermarket fish counters during Jan, Feb, March the beginning of April, latter end of Sept, Oct, Nov and Dec. If you have a good fishmonger you will be able to buy bigger bags and there's also great selection of online retailers who will deliver to your door.

Mussels are ridiculously easy to cook and though lots of people worry about eating them in case they get sick, the trick to safely eating mussels is all the in the preparation, it's really simple.

Once you have your bag of mussels, put them into a bowl or sink of cold water. Only do this if you are about to clean and cook them though, if you need to store them for later use (don't use more than a day later than buying them) wrap a damp tea towel around the bag and put in the bottom of the fridge.

Barnacles, Beards and Dirt
Cleaning mussels is a bit of an arduous task but I find it really worth it to see the end result as a delicious steaming pot of Moules Mariniere.

When cleaning in the water you need to remove any barnacles and beards. Beards are the usually dark green straggly bits that are sticking out from the side where the mussel opens. To remove barnacles I find that the safest way of doing it is with a pair of kitchen scissors. You literally need to scrape them off. To remove the beards, simply hold the mussel with one hand and pull the beard out with your fingers on the other.

how to clean mussels
And Scrape!

mussel beard
This does take time but it has to be done, you should see lots of sand and grit in the bottom of the water as you clean, you want it there rather than in your meal!

mussel cleaning water
This Is Why You Have To Clean Them
Here's the really important bit: The reason people get sick after eating mussels is because they are eating ones (or just one would do it) that are dead before they go into the pot. The way to make absolutely sure that you're going to be safe is to discard any that have damage to the shell, even just the slightest bit.

Next you want to check ones that are open, you need to tap them on a hard surface, if they close they're alive and prime for cooking, if they remain open, discard them.

dead mussels
By now you should have a pile of clean, beard free, alive mussels that are safe and ready for the pot!

cleaned mussels
All Clean
Another really important bit: Once cooked, do not eat any mussels that haven't opened in the pot. Do not force them open! If you always remember that open mussels before cooking are bad and closed ones after cooking are bad, you can't go wrong!

Here's a simple step by step guide to preparing mussels for cooking:
  • When you are ready to cook the mussels, put them into cold water so that all the sand and grit is removed
mussels in water
First Step Of Cleaning
  • Use kitchen scissors to scrape off barnacles
  • Use your fingers to pull out beards
  • If you encounter any damaged shells as you are cleaning, discard them
  • If you find any mussels that are open, tap on a hard surface to see if they close, if they don't, throw them away
  • After cooking, if you find any that are closed discard, do not eat.
mussels in colander
Separate The Clean Ones As You Go
Pretty simple huh? Lovely mussel recipe coming tomorrow.


  1. Can't say that I have as I prefer to cook them myself and they need to be live ones for that. I use frozen squid a lot though.


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