Mussels: So delicious, so simple. But that hard outer shell seems difficult to master. Do you clean it? Do you scrape it? How will the mussels cook? In the first installment of our summer how-to series, we're showing you how to work with, cook, and enjoy the best of summer staples. And in the case of mussels, it only takes three easy steps.
Mussels are a great summer meal. They're easy to find (your local grocery store will have them), they're inexpensive, and they cook quickly. You'll want grab about a pound and a half for two people. Once you get them home, you'll first want to give them a quick once over. To ensure you cook only fresh/live mussels, check that they're all closed and unbroken. Tap open mussels lightly to close. If they don't close, discard. Then tumble them into a colander and rinse under cool water. If you feel any mud or dirt, just rub it off with your hands. Then look for "beards", the muscle on the back of the shell through which mussels attach themselves to surfaces. It's a thin strip at the center of the shell base, just give it a quick tug and discard.
Prep your aromatics! Mussels are great because they basically create their own sauce as they cook. You just want to add flavor. The most common way to cook mussels to add them to a pot with aromatics: onions, shallots, garlics, and leek. Slice up your preferred combo and them to a heavy pan (that has a lid) with a bit of oil, then let them sweat. You don't want to add color, you just want to soften the veggies. So keep the heat low and stir often.
Choose your liquid and steam. Though mussels will release lots of juice as they cook, here's an opportunity to add flavor. Usually, mussels are cooked in white wine. But you can switch it up and coconut milk, chicken broth, clam juice, or a tomato based broth. Throw that into the pan (enough to eventually cover the mussels), let it come to a boil, thrown in your mussels, and immediately cover your pan. Gently shake the pan while the mussels cook, looking in every 30 seconds. In one minute, your mussels will have started to open up. When the clams are mostly open (about two minutes), you're done! Discard any mussels with closed shells and serve with chunks of bread to sop up all that delicious mussel juice. Enjoy!