While preparing a batch of raw mussels for cooking, you might see some slightly open shells. Partially open shells usually mean the bivalves are just taking a breather or they died during storage. When mussels die, they spoil quickly, making them unsafe to eat even when cooked. To check that your mussels are alive and breathing, give their shells a tap.
Healthy mussels smell like the ocean and have tightly sealed shells that open when cooked. When they go bad, mussels take on a fishy odor and open their shells. A mussel sometimes partially opens his shell during respiration. To check whether a mussel is still alive, tap the shell with the tip of your finger. A living mussel closes his shell after the tap, which means it's safe to cook the mussel. If the shell does not close, discard the mussel.
Mussels need oxygen to breathe. If stored in an airtight container or bowl of water, they suffocate and eventually die. Keep mussels alive for cooking by storing them in a clean, empty bowl or container with no lid. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth to maintain moisture, and pop it in the refrigerator. When refrigerated, the mussels survive for approximately two days. Discard them if you don't cook them during that time.
Cooked and Open
One of the most common ways to cook mussels in a covered pot of boiling water for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. When mussels pop open, they are ready to eat. Mussels that do not open after cooking are suspect and should be thrown away. Seafood requires cooking to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Press a food thermometer into the cooked mussel meat to check. Continue boiling if the mussel meat is not fully cooked.
The Freezing Option
After cooking mussels, eat them within two hours, wrap them tightly in foil and refrigerate to eat within three days, or freeze them. If you choose the freezer option, remove the mussel meat from the shells and store in an airtight container. Place the container in the freezer where the mussels remain safe to eat for up to four months. Transfer the mussels to the refrigerator to thaw the night before eating.
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