Mussels are shellfish, like clams or oysters. They are usually processed without any additives or preservatives when sold live. Half-shell mussels are simply mussels that have been steamed open. Cooking fresh mussels is not at all difficult, requires no special equipment and takes only a few minutes. The shells will be hot to handle so keep a pair of tongs close at hand. Children love the novelty of the attractive, sturdy shells, which can even make natural playthings and craft supplies when thoroughly washed after the meal. Take advantage of this way to broaden their palates and introduce new flavors.
Mussels are high in protein, low in fat and contain the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids of any shellfish. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to help prevent heart and cardiovascular disease. Omega-3 is also essential for brain health. In addition, mussels contain vitamins B12 and C, zinc, selenium, phosphorous, manganese and iron.
Mussels have to be cooked live, so they are sold live. Look for unbroken shells that are glossy and black. Pick a mussel up and smell it to determine freshness. It should have a clean and salty scent reminiscent of seawater. Mussels that smell too fishy or smell off in any way are not fresh. When you get them home, rinse them in cool water and place them on a tray. Do not add water but cover them with a towel. The mussels should stay fresh for 48 to 72 hours.
Before you can make half-shell mussels, you have to get them open. Wash the mussels with a little brush to get off any sand or grit. Remove the hairy beard that sticks out of the shell if that was not done by the merchant. Steam them for about five minutes in a covered pot with just an inch or two of water. Add white wine to the water for a little more flavor. Throw away any mussels that are still closed. They aren't good to eat even if you could pry them open.
Cooking Half-Shell Mussels
Half-shell mussels are delicious with just a sprinkle of lemon juice and a drop of hot sauce, but you can doll them up for a special occasion by removing all of the mussels and mixing them with sherry, breadcrumbs, crumbled bacon, green onions, seasoning mix or anything else you care to add. Mix the mussels in with the other ingredients and stuff the half shells, then bake or broil them just until they're hot and bubbly. Alcohol evaporates quickly from food during cooking, leaving behind nothing but the complex flavors of the wine or sherry.