What Are Steamed Mussels?

Andrew Kirmayer

Mussels are hard-shell mollusks that live in salt water as well as fresh water. When the hard shell is opened, the mussels are eaten and enjoyed by many people around the world. Cooking mussels first involves steaming them to get the shells to open, before the mollusks are consumed or cooked further. Water is typically used to accomplish this and the basic form of steamed mussels can be prepared in just a few minutes. The natural broth that is made during cooking is often used as a sauce, or a variety of ingredients can be added.

Steamed mussels.
Steamed mussels.

Steaming mussels opens the shells; afterward, they can be prepared by broiling, grilling, or frying them. A pot full of water on a hot stove is all that is needed to make steamed mussels. Sometimes wine is used; whatever liquid is cooked with the mussels can also be served as a sauce as it absorbs the flavor during steaming. The mixture of mussels and liquid is covered in the pot for a few minutes. When it starts to boil, then steam will appear from the lid; once the heat is lowered the pot can be shaken so the mussels cook evenly.

Steamed mussels are eaten and enjoyed by many people around the world.
Steamed mussels are eaten and enjoyed by many people around the world.

After a few more minutes most of the mussels should be open. Steaming methods can vary to create different kinds of dishes. The sauce is often served as is, but vegetables or spices, herbs, or other flavorings can be added to any batch of mussels. Adding butter or mayonnaise can alter the mixture so that it can have a unique taste, while cornstarch can thicken it so the sauce takes on the desired characteristics. It is also common to add garlic, thyme, or tomato, or combinations of ingredients, while cooking steamed mussels.

Mussels are harvested in many locations and typically shipped live in large refrigerated trucks. They are then separated from one another, washed, and the healthy ones are packaged before being sold on the market. Safety is assured unless the mussels are not stored at the proper temperature, or toxic substances or chemicals are present. If all the local and regional regulations are followed by the harvesters and shippers, then eating steamed mussels is typically considered quite safe. The process takes just a few minutes and does not require many steps, but ingredients can be added to change the taste accordingly.

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