The two most popular recipes hail from France and Italy:
Classic Mussels (Moules Marinière), made with garlic, onions/shallots, parsley, tarragon, white wine.
Mussels Fra Diavolo, made with fresh basil, crushed chili flakes, garlic, olive oil and tomatoes.
Many Recipe Variations
After you’re comfortable with the basic recipe, you can go all out with seasonings.
Flex Mussels in New York City serves 21 different recipes, from the classics to cuisine-specific riffs from Indian (cinnamon, curry, garlic, star anise, white wine) to Thai (coconut broth, coriander, curry, kaffir lime, lemongrass, lime, ginger, garlic).
If you’re old enough to remember Alice’s Restaurant—the hit song, which begat the feature film and cookbook—Alice liked to vary her recipes. On steamed mussels, she commented:
“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.”
Now, let’s get ready to make mussels!
HOW TO BUY & CLEAN MUSSELS
For dinner, figure two-thirds of a pound of mussels in the shell per person—more for hearty eaters. Leftover mussels are delicious the next day, either warmed or chilled with a green salad and vinaigrette.
Mussels and other some other bivavles (clams, cockles, oysters) are sold live, kept cold on ice. Unlike other seafood, once a bivalve is no longer alive, the flesh decomposes quickly.
Buy mussels with moist shells (not dry-looking) that are tightly closed, with no external blemishes. Western mussels have black shells. You may find New Zealand mussels, which have green shells and tend to be meatier.
Even if you buy farm-raised mussels, you may want still want to go through the classic rinsing process.
Set them in a pot filled with cold water with a tablespoon of dry mustard. After 20 minutes, drain and move them to a colander.
Srub them under running water to eliminate any debris.
Check for beards, straw-like filaments that can get protrude from the two halves of the shell. Pull them off and discard. (Most farm-raised mussels won’t have beards.)
What about partially opened mussels?
Most people who cook bivalves know to discard these: They may be dead. But here’s a trick:
Tap them firmly a few times with a spoon or other implement. If they’re alive, they will slowly close their shells. If there’s no motion, consider them dead and toss them in the trash.
And definitely toss any mussels with cracked shells prior to cooking. Bacteria may have entered through the crack.
What if you’re not going to cook the mussels immediately?
You can keep the mussels for a few days if you place them in a bowl or other container in the coldest part of the refrigerator (generally the rear of the bottom shelf). First line the bowl with a plastic storage bag filled with ice resting on top. Cover with a damp paper towel.