How to cook mussels

How to cook mussels

Despite their luxe appeal, mussels are a great value seafood option. If you’ve got no idea where to begin when it comes to cooking mussels, you’re in luck. They’re quick to cook and almost impossible to mess up. We’re breaking it all down below. By Jess Spiro

How to shop for mussels

The wonderful thing about mussels is that they’re bound to taste great, regardless of whether you buy them fresh or frozen. Fresh is always best, but you can rest easy knowing that a box of frozen mussels will be just as good, plus they’ve probably already been cleaned and partially cooked (more on this later). When it comes to buying fresh mussels, look for ones with tightly closed shells with a fresh briny smell. Open mussels aren’t as fresh, so avoid these or any with too many broken shells.

How to store and clean mussels

Ideally you should cook fresh, live mussels as soon as possible, but if you need to store them for a day or two in the fridge, do so in a large bowl and keep them covered with a damp dish towel. Don’t store them in water as they need to breathe. Nowadays, it’s pretty common to ask your fishmonger to clean the mussels for you, but if you’re ever in a position where you need to clean them, you won’t struggle. Using a clean metal scourer, gently scrub the outer shell to remove any barnacles, sand or seaweed. Check that there’s no beard either (a clump of hair-like fibres coming out of the shell), and if there is, simply tug on it to remove it. At this point, having handled each mussel, you should notice that they remain tightly closed, or close once you tap on them. If they don’t close, this means they’re dead and should be discarded. Be sure to discard any with cracked shells, too. Remember, fresh mussels are still alive, so any agitation should encourage them to either stay closed or close up. Only once they’re cooked will they open.

A note on cooking mussels

The formula for cooking mussels is pretty simple and can be easily changed up. You need some sort of liquid to steam them and some kind of aromatic or accompaniment. The liquid could be white wine, beer, fish stock, Napolitana sauce or curry and coconut milk. The aromatics can be anything from onion, leeks and garlic, to fresh tomatoes, lemongrass and coriander.

Find our step-by-step guide to cooking mussels below, and some of our favourite recipes here.

Mussels in beer broth with garlic-mayo toast recipeGet the recipe for mussels in beer broth with garlic-mayo toast here.

Get the recipe for steamed mussel pot here.

Get the recipe for mussels in spicy tomato broth here.

Get the recipe for curried mussels here.



  1. Prepare your base. Finely slice 1 onion or 2 large leeks and 3 cloves of garlic. Heat some oil and butter in a large saucepan or mussel pot.

    Step 1

  2. 2. Gently soften the onions or leeks, but don’t allow to colour. Stir in the garlic. Pour in 250–300 ml of your liquid of choice, such as white wine, beer or stock, and bring to a simmer.

    Step 2

  3. 3. Add the mussels and cover tightly and allow to steam for 5 minutes or until the mussels have opened.

    Step 3

  4. 4. Discard any that refuse to open, but do give them a chance to open. Keep shaking the pot around as they cook. You can remove the opened mussels and leave the unopened ones to simmer longer, hoping they’ll open.

    Step 4

  5. 5. To finish, check the flavour of the broth you’ve made and adjust the seasoning as necessary. You could add in a splash of cream and freshly chopped herbs such as parsley.

    Step 5

  6. 6. Serve with French fries or crusty fresh bread.

    Step 6

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