Flex your mussel

by | Jul 12, 2010

Welcome, class, to today’s Fresh Pick: MUSSELS

The term “mussel” is used for several families of bivalve molluscs inhabiting lakes, rivers, and creeks, as well as intertidal areas along coastlines worldwide. The freshwater and saltwater mussels are not closely related, and are grouped in different subclasses, despite some similarities in appearance. The freshwater Zebra mussels and their relatives live attached to rocks in a manner similar to marine mussels, but are classified with the Heterodonta, the taxonomic group including most bivalves referred to as “clams.”

Archaeologically, there is much evidence for humans having utilised mussels as a source of food for thousands of years. Nowadays marine mussels are still a popular seafood item, especially in Belgium and the Netherlands, where they are consumed with French fries (mosselen met friet or moules frites). In Italy, they are a popular dish, often mixed with other seafood, or eaten with pasta. In Turkey, mussels are either covered with flour and fried on shishs (midye tava) or filled with rice and served cold (midye dolma). In France, the Éclade des Moules is a mussel bake popular along the beaches of the Bay of Biscay. In Cantonese cuisine, mussels are cooked in a broth of garlic and fermented black bean. In New Zealand, they are commonly served in a chili based vinaigrette.

Mussels can be smoked, boiled or steamed. As for all shellfish, mussels should be alive just before they are cooked because they quickly become toxic after they die. The mussel shells open by themselves when cooked. (Discard any that remain closed after cooking.) Months with an “r” in their name (September to April) are said to be the in season for mussels.

Intertidal herbivorous shellfish such as mussels and clams can help people reach a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in their diets.

For some great recipes, click here or here or try this delicious dish:

2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 med shallot, minced
1/3 c white wine (or white cooking wine)
2 lbs mussels, rinsed, drained, and debearded
6 oz prewashed baby spinach
3 plum tomatoes, deseeded and diced
2 tsp tarragon

In a large pan over low heat, sauté garlic and shallot in olive oil until soft and translucent. Add white wine and mussels, cover pan, raise heat to medium-low, and steam mussels until shells open, about 7 minutes.

Uncover pan and transfer mussels to a warming dish. Turn heat to high and allow liquid to reduce (by boiling) for about 5 minutes. Lower heat back to medium-low and add remaining ingredients, cooking and stirring frequently until spinach wilts, about 5 minutes. Remove mixture from heat and pour over mussels. Serve with crusty bread and a salad.


I’m Dina R. D’Alessandro, MS, RDN, CDN. I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in New York City, and I provide nutrition counseling to women.

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