Raw Mussels are sold live. Make sure the shells are unbroken and closed and have a faint smell of the sea and not of fish. Normally they are quite clean outside, but occasionally you might bite on a mussel with some sand in it. That’s an unpleasant experience and can spoil your entire meal. So it’s prudent to clean and purge the mussels before preparing any mussel dish.
This procedure will not be necessary if you buy mussels which are commercially farmed and sold frozen in supermarkets as they should be purged already.
To purge raw mussels of sand and debris inside their digestive tracks follow this age-old procedure:
- Cleaning: Place the mussels in plenty of cold fresh water right away so they stay closed. Dead mussels will not close and need to be discarded. Scrub the shells and remove any barnacles as well as the black fibrous “beard”. Discard mussels with shells attached.
- Purging: Put the mussels in a container with cold water and add 1/2 cup of cornmeal. Let it stand for 1 hour. The mussels will eat the cornmeal and expel any sand or grit. Run them under water again to remove all sand and cornmeal at the end.
Finally a piece of advice: Cook or steam mussels for the briefest time, 3 – 5 minutes at most or until they just open. That way, they’ll be juicy, sweet and tender. Mussels that remain closed after having been cooked or steamed were dead before you bought them and must be discarded.