A question about a recipe: Mussels for One (or Two)

I've never prepared mussels before, so I sure hope it's normal for a full dozen of them to appear dead or cracked. I don't think my kids will go for them, so it's not a big deal, there will be enough for me. But what about the ones that float? A bunch of them dove into the water when I put them in to soak, but some are still floating, 1/2 hour later.

sarah k.
Mussels for One (or Two)
Recipe question for: Mussels for One (or Two)


Greenstuff April 8, 2011
Another little note based on Sarah's story! I totally agree with her that fennel would be more delicious than celery that she substituted in. But she should take heart--in Belgium, where mussels are a national specialty, the traditional recipe calls for celery. It's the ingredient that separates them from mussels in France.
Greenstuff April 8, 2011
Too late for Sarah, but just in case anyone else is reading and interested. Today's purchased mussels don't need soaking. They are grown off the bottom and/or are subjected to a cleansing period before sale. I am a huge fan of the mussels we can buy at the markets these days.

Some wild-collected mussels might be sandy and benefit from a little time in salt water. But, keep in mind that mussels are more fragile than clams. Unless you're pretty good at mixing seawater, they may not open up and filter out the sand. Most are absolutely fine without a soak, and I'm disappointed that so many internet cooking sites recommend one.

A freshwater soak makes no sense to me although it probably doesn't do any harm if you limit it to 20 minutes or less. Over a longer period, the freshwater would kill the mussel. Even with the short soak, they'd be likely to just "clam up." Which means they aren't filtering anything out at all!
lastnightsdinner April 8, 2011
Hi again Sarah - I had never heard of soaking mussels - guess I've learned something new! :) The mussels I can get locally are cultivated - they grow them on ropes in the water, so they typically don't have any grit in the shells. I do soak the clams we buy with cornmeal, though, as they burrow in the sand and tend to have a bit of sand inside the shells still.
sarah K. April 8, 2011
Lastnightsdinner, I had to google how to prepare them, and the sources I found said they should be soaked in fresh water for at least 20 minutes. Is that something that the fishmonger usually does now? One place said to do it with cornmeal in the water, so they would, theoretically, expel more sand... Anyway, a couple of them shut, but some of the others opened, so I just used the closed ones, all of which opened up in the broth after 5 minutes. They were delicious, though my kids were not interested. :( And... of course I forgot a key ingredient, the cream! I even had it ready next to the stove, but was so worried about getting them out and not overcooking them that I just emptied them into bowls right then. I admit that substituting celery for the fennel wasn't the best idea, though. I am anxious to try the recipe as written.
lastnightsdinner April 8, 2011
Hi Sarah! You typically don't soak mussels - just a quick scrub under running water is fine. You'll also want to pull off thelittle fibrous "beards" if they haven't already been removed. As said above, they should be tightly closed. Any mussels that are open and don't close with a tap or gentle squeeze should be discarded, as should any with cracked or broken shells. And any that don't open after you've cooked them aren't safe to eat. Timing will vary depending on the size of the mussels, so if you have a lot of closed shells still at the end of the cooking time, give them another 5 minutes on the heat. Good luck!
nutcakes April 8, 2011
You want to discard dead ones before they are cooked. They should close up when tapped if they are open. Not sure about floaters, not a good sign, imo. After they are cooked, discard any that don't open--those are dead. Mussels are so easy to cook, just don't overcook them.
alexmr April 8, 2011
I have never used frozen mussels before but I do know that with fresh mussels if they are open (and don't close when you touch them) that you shouldn't use them.
alexmr April 8, 2011
I would say if they float do not eat them.
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