The best place to purchase mussels is the same as the best place to buy any other seafood: buy from a market that has plenty of business and moves the product quickly. Ask how long the mussels have been in the store. A good fish market will readily supply that info.
Bearding: the beard is the little bit of "straw-like" fiber that is frequently found on the concave side of the shell. It serves as a means of anchoring the mussel to the side of a rock under water. All you need to do is grasp it and pull it off prior to cooking. Some mussels don't have the beard attached when you purchase them.
Washing: I simply run water over my mussels and inspect them while I'm bearding them. The mussels will most-likely be closed shell when you are working with them prior to cooking. Any mussels that aren't closed at this point are suspect and I would toss them.
Mussels will open up once they are cooked, which happens very quickly when exposed to hot broth. Any mussels that do not open should be tossed.
For this recipe, which uses 2 lbs of mussels in-shell (approximately 3/4 to 1 lb per person is a good ratio):
1 cup to 1.5 cups of a good white wine
1 carton grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
30 basil leaves sliced into thin strips
1/3 to 1/2 cup capers, rinsed well in water and chopped
pinch saffron (optional)
6-8 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
shaved or shredded parmesan reggiano cheese (use the real stuff!)
2 lbs mussels, washed and bearded, resting in a colander until needed
the mise en place
olive oil is heated to shimmer, then red pepper flakes are added.
Heat for about one minute before adding the garlic.
Add garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1-2 minutes
Add fresh parsley and basil.
Add chopped capers
Add part of the white wine (notice I'm not too worried about measuring LOL)
a pinch of saffron (optional)
add water and bring contents to just shy of boiling.
Broth should be steaming and a few bubbles visible.
Add mussels. "Baste" the mussels with the broth.
Cover pan for a couple of minutes to allow steam to heat the mussels.
See how the mussels are now open?
This means they are cooked!
Heap mussels into a deep bowl along with plenty of broth.
Be sure to have an extra bowl at the table for the shells to be placed after removing.
To remove the mussel from its shell, use a small fork or spoon and
scoop it out of the shell. I do this to all the mussels prior to consuming the dish.
Why not do it before? I think the mussels in their shells add a great deal of flavor to the
Once the mussels are out of their shells, I add a bit of parmesan reggiano to the soup.
This is savory and delicious.
It is so simple and quick to make.