Mussels are a relatively low-cost, sustainable seafood that are quick and easy to cook. They're also versatile: scoop a pile of this shellfish into paella for a visual element or serve them on their own with crusty bread. This is an ingredient that is suitable for a fancy dinner party or a simple, mid-week dinner.
Are you wondering whether mussels are worth trying? Keep reading to find out.
What Do Mussels Taste Like?
Mussels have a very mild "ocean" flavor with a faintly sweet, mushroom-like undertone. Their subtle taste makes them an excellent addition to many dishes, and they will take on the character of the other ingredients they're combined with. When cooked correctly, the texture of mussels is tender and slightly chewy – they're firmer than a scallop but softer than clams.
|Mild “ocean” flavor with a faintly sweet, mushroom-like undertone
|Soft, slightly chewy.
|Often cream or orange
What flavors work best with mussels?
- white wine sauce
- horseradish cream
Recommended side dishes
- fresh bread
- roast potatoes
- garden salad
How variety affects the taste
Mussels are mollusks that come in a range of varieties. Although they all share a similar taste, they also have some differences. The most common type is the blue mussel, which is small with intense color and flavor. Black mussels are slightly larger and are also very common on menus in Europe and the United States. Green lip mussels are less common as they are exclusively found in New Zealand. This variety is much larger and meatier with a milder taste.
Mussels Vs. Clams
These two types of shellfish are often mixed up; but, they are visually easy to distinguish. Clams have light-colored shells which are rounder in shape. Mussels are oval with a rough textured shell.
When comparing their taste, clams are a little saltier, and their texture is chewier. Although the two types of mollusk have differences, they can be used interchangeably in most dishes. If you're making a seafood chowder, paella, or seafood linguine, then either option will produce a delicious meal.
How to steam mussels
Follow this simple recipe for cooking steamed mussels that family and friends will love.
- 4 pounds mussels
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 cup vegetable stock or broth
- ¾ cup white wine
- Parsley, to garnish
- Lemon wedges, to garnish
- Rinse the mussels and then inspect them, ensuring all the beards have been removed. Check that all the shells are closed; if you discover any that are open, lightly tap it. If it doesn't close, then discard it.
- Heat the olive oil in a saute pan or shallow pot on a medium-high heat then saute the onion and garlic for two minutes or until translucent.
- Add the mussels to the pan, then pour in the stock and wine. Cover with a lid and steam for five minutes or until the shells are all open.
- Pour mussels into four bowls and sprinkle over the parsley. Place lemon wedges on the side and serve immediately with bread.
Useful cooking tips
1. Use a flavorsome liquid
When you cook mussels in their shell, they are steamed. This process allows the seafood to take on some of this flavor. So instead of adding water to the pan, use a more creative ingredient such as stock, dry white wine, a crisp beer such as an IPA, tomato sauce, or coconut milk.
2. Give the raw mussels a quick check
If you've bought a bag of mussels from a good quality fishmonger, then they should be already clean with beards removed. But, it is still worthwhile checking in case one got missed. Pop the shellfish into a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Use a small paring knife to scrape off any unwanted dirt or furry bits. The shells should be shut, so if you see an open one, tap to check that it closes. Any that remain open should be tossed in the bin.
3. Build out the flavor profile
Instead of adding the mussels in with a liquid and cooking, firstly saute aromatics like onion, garlic, shallots, or chili. This flavor will be absorbed by the shellfish and will form the foundation for a tasty sauce.
4. Use a lid and keep it on
Avoid taking off the cover every minute to check if they're cooked. This will allow the steam to escape, lengthening the cooking time and letting the flavor-filled steam escape. Instead, give the pan a light shake after a few minutes to help everything cook evenly.
5. Add fresh herbs at the end
If you add the herbs too early, they'll wilt and soften. For the best visual appearance, add ingredients like parsley right before serving.
6. Check for unopened mussels
Before serving, ensure that all the shells have opened. Any that remain closed could have died long before being harvested. It is a sign that they should be discarded as they're unsafe to eat.
How to eat a mussel
Are you at a restaurant and wondering how to eat this challenging looking shellfish? There are two options for eating them: one is to use your hands and simply pick up the shell and suck the meat into your mouth. If you prefer a less messy option then use a seafood fork to pull off the flesh. If you're eating out, there will usually be a small bowl with water to wash your hands, so discarding the fork and getting dirty shouldn't be a problem.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do mussels and oysters taste the same?
Oysters tend to have a stronger briny taste compared to mussels. In the ocean, they also take on more flavor from their surroundings while mussels are milder. The texture of an oyster is quite unique with many describing it as firm, yet slimy.
Do mussels taste like scallops?
Scallops are lighter and sweeter in flavor than mussels. The texture of a scallop is softer, almost like fish.
What is the black thing in mussels?
The black stuff in mussels is undigested food such as plankton, and it is edible.
Can you eat mussel beards?
Mussel beards are not harmful to the human body, but it's best to remove them as they are not enjoyable to eat.
If you're considering eating mussels for the first time, then you're probably wondering what they taste like. They have a very mild "ocean" flavor with a faintly sweet, mushroom-like undertone. Keep in mind also that the blue or black varieties will have a little more flavor than the green-lipped version, which comes from New Zealand.
You'll find that mild-tasting mussels will take on flavors from the other ingredients used in the recipe. So the taste of this shellfish will vary depending on their preparation. The cook's level of expertise will also have a noticeable impact on the texture, with slightly overcooked mussels transforming into tough, unpleasant meat.
People that are trying shellfish for the first time may prefer to start with another menu item, like scallops. They look a lot more appealing and have a sweeter, milder flavor.
Have you tried mussels before? Let us know in the comments below whether you love or loathe them.