Mussels can be cooked in many different ways, but the most common method is steaming — either as a single method, or used to pre-cook them before using another cooking method. The shiny, black, oval-shaped bivalve mollusks open during the steaming process. Besides being steamed, mussels are often fried, grilled and baked.
No matter what cooking method you will be using, always buy mussels from a reliable source in an uncontaminated area. Interestingly, those with flesh more on the white side are usually females and mollusks with flesh that tends to be more of an orange color are often males. Both are basically the same, flavorwise, with the juice of both being the most flavorful part. Mussels should be rinsed several times to remove sand before steaming and the "beard" protuberance should be taken off.
Steamed mussels can be made by adding the prepared mollusks to a few cups of liquid brought to a steaming boil in a large pot or Dutch oven. After the mussels are added, they should be steamed for about eight minutes over medium heat. If possible, they should be turned carefully after four or five minutes of cooking. Mussels should never be overcooked as they can become tough. Once the shells steam open, they are done and any with unopened shells should not be used.
Mussels can be coated in fine bread crumbs and pan-fried, or even deep fried. They can also be baked in the oven on the half shell and sprinkled with olive oil and herbs. Mussels only take about five minutes on an outdoor grill over medium to high heat. They are delicious in soups, but are best added right near the end of cooking time to avoid overcooking.
These mollusks can be substituted for clams in dishes such as linguine with clam sauce, and some recipes call for both. Mexican-style salads sometimes use mussels and they add a distinctive look to the Spanish dish paella. Southeast Asian cuisine often uses coconut and ginger in mussel dishes. The classic French dish, moules mariniers, blends butter, wine, onions, salt, pepper and parsley with them. A baguette is used to absorb the juice.
Many different types of sauces can be used to dress cooked mussels. A French roux can serve as a sauce base as can teriyaki or tomato sauce. The general guideline commonly used when buying them is to allow 1 lb (450 g) in the shell per person for a main dish and 0.5 lb (225 g) per person for a side dish or appetizer.