Mussels taste of the deep, briny ocean without being chewy or rubbery when properly cooked. Female mussels have orange meat while male mussels are more cream colored, though there is no difference in flavor. Mussels are not usually eaten raw as oysters are. In most cases, sand or grit isn't a problem like it can be with clams. Plan on 16 oz. of mussels per person for a dinner-sized serving.
Scrub the mussels and remove the beards, which are stringy filaments the mussels use to attach themselves to rocks. Rinse well. Store in the refrigerator, wrapped loosely in paper. If any of the mussels are slightly open, tap them. If they don't close up, they're dead and should be discarded. Also discard any mussels that don't open after cooking. Frozen mussels are available on the half shell.
Mussels make a satisfying soup that's hearty enough for dinner. Saute chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until softened but not brown. Add a can of chopped tomatoes with their juice. Simmer for 15 minutes on very low heat. Add the mussels and cover the pot. Cook until the mussels have opened, probably no more than five minutes. If the mussels have come loose from their shells discard the shells. If the mussels are still in their shell, put the shells with the meat in broad soup bowls. Serve with crusty bread and a crunchy green salad to round out the meal. Add raw shrimp, clams and fish chunks to the mussels for a rustic peasant fish soup.
Like oysters and clams, mussels may be stuffed. Use frozen mussels on the half shell. Clean fresh mussels. Put them in half a cup of white wine and steam until they open, then remove them from the pot. Retain the juices. Combine the juice with breadcrumbs, minced garlic, onions and thyme. Cover a cookie tray with 1/4 inch of coarse salt. If all you have is table salt, use that. The salt supports the mussels so they don't wobble. Take off half the shell and use the half that has the mussel in it. Push the stuffing into the shell on top of the mussel. Nestle the shell in the salt. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F. Serve with asparagus dressed with lemon and tarragon and new potatoes with dill and butter. Add parmesan cheese and minced ham to the stuffing for a different flavor.
Pasta and mussels go together whether in a cream, tomato or olive-oil-based sauce. Cook the pasta. Saute chopped onion and garlic in butter for a cream sauce or olive oil for a tomato-based sauce. When the onion is translucent, add 1/4 cup of white wine or chicken broth and the mussels. Cover the pan until the mussels open. Add cream and parmesan cheese for the cream sauce or halved cherry tomatoes. Toss with the pasta and heat through. Vary the taste by adding chorizo sausage with the tomatoes. Serve with wilted kale or spinach drizzled with warm bacon dressing. The distinctive taste of the mussels stands up well to the strong flavor of the greens.