Mussels are easy to cook, quick, inexpensive and tasty but they also pack a powerful nutritional punch! They are a high protein source and low in fat content, making them potentially healthier than other protein sources, such as beef, which can contain a lot of saturated fat.
Mussels are also low in calories. Did you know that a 3 ounce portion of raw mussels only has 70 calories with 1.9 grams of fat, of which only 0.4 grams is saturated? An equal portion of lean sirloin is about 160 calories and has approximately 2.1 grams of saturated fat, even if it is higher in protein.
Mussels are an excellent source of vitamin B12 and selenium, which is an essential micronutrient. One hundred grams of mussels provides approximately 13% of your daily vitamin C needs and 22% of your iron needs. They're also a good source of other B vitamins, particularly folate, phosphorous, manganese and zinc. Add the fact that they are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, or the 'good fat', and it's hard not to see the nutritional benefits of these little saltwater gems.
Mussels can be baked, fried, smoked or broiled and often served in chowders. In my experience they are most commonly steamed but NEVER boiled! They can be eaten right out of the pot or prepared in a variety of broths and sauces and served with crusty bread for dipping. My father prefers steaming them in ocean water and dipping them in vinegar with pepper, which is probably the simplest form of preparation. Some people steam them in water and dip in melted garlic butter.
As a general rule of thumb, you'll need 1 pound of mussels per person. One cautionary note: mussels should always be prepared live as dead mussels deteriorate very quickly. If mussels are cultivated, a quick rinse before cooking is adequate. However, if hand harvested from the ocean, they should be scrubbed and cleaned, removing any little 'beards'. You can usually tell if mussels are alive because they'll close when you rinse them. If some still haven't closed, tap the shell and it should close. If it doesn't, discard. Any mussels that remain unopened after steaming should also be discarded.
For the basic preparation, place approximately 1/4 c. of water in a pot and turn the heat on high. Add mussels and cover. When the steam is coming from around the lid, peek in - if mussels are open, they're done! This usually takes about 5-10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, pour mussels and broth into a serving dish and serve with crusty bread to dip into the delicious broth.
You can replace the water with wine, beer or other liquid for some flavour variation, or throw in chopped garlic, onion, shallots, lemon grass, etc. I've prepared mussels many ways - in a seafood chowder, with alfredo sauce and fettucini pasta, or in a flavourful sauce. My personal preference is steamed in a flavourful sauce such as white wine with lemongrass, garlic and shallot. Other ideas are a spicy maple bourbon cream sauce, (the recipe for which can be found under 'Seafood' in the Recipe section from the navigation bar above), coconut curry and tomato vodka sauce.
Whatever your preference, mussels are strongmen of nutrition and they tick all of my boxes - quick, easy, inexpensive, healthy, tasty and flexible. Dress 'em up or dress 'em down - either which way, they're delicious!