In Kiwiland, we’re lucky to enjoy green-lipped mussels galore, a unique species with economic importance to New Zealand.
They’re genetically larger than blue mussels (and so have lovely, fleshy meat!), another mussel grown for human consumption.
If new to preparing mussels, they might appear a bit intimating in the kitchen. However, don’t fear – they’re unassuming culinary and nutrition heroes.
Six Reasons to Consider Mussels in your Diet
They’re a cheap-as-chips animal protein. At the time of purchase, a bagful of twenty cost me a little under $4.00.
They cook speedy. Simply steam for five minutes, or until the shell opens. No crowbar needed (kidding).
They boast a solid nutritional profile. They’re rich in protein; as well as an array of minerals, particularly iron. Per ½ cup serve, they deliver a significant 7.5 mg of heme-iron (a well-absorbed form of iron!).
They’re sustainable. They don’t require any input to grow, instead filter-feeding on micro-nutrients in the water.
They’re a culinary dream; taking on flavours exceptionally well.
They’re very accessible in NZ. Find them in the seafood section of the supermarket.
Mussel 101: Purchasing, Usage, Storage and Troubleshooting
When buying. Keep a lookout for mussels that have tightly closed shells, and that smell fresh and a little briny. Otherwise, if they’re a smidge open, give the shell a good tap with your fingernail – it should close. Beware of batches with cracked shells – they may be older or have been mishandled.
How long can you wait before cooking? They’re best if you can cook them close to when you buy them, but they’ll be fine for a few days in the fridge.
How do you store them in the fridge? They must be kept alive – store in the refrigerator, in an open container covered with a very damp cloth to keep moist and protected. They need to breathe, so an open container is essential.
Mussel not opening when cooking? Discard. They may pose food safety risks.
Enjoy! This recipe was taught to me by my Baba (or grandmother), and is a special family recipe.
Place fresh mussels in a sink filled with salty water - salty like the sea! This will keep them closed and fresh while you clean them.
Peel onions and finely slice. Slice capsicum in half, deseed and roughly slice.
Cover the bottom of a large soup pot with olive oil measure. Heat oil over a medium-low heat.
Add onion and bay leaf, and sauté for a few minutes. Add capsicum, along with garlic salt. Sauté until onions are soft - don’t let it burn!
Add tinned tomatoes. Rinse tin with a few Tbsp of water (to collect all the tomato juice) and add to pot. Add honey. Bring to boil, mix well and simmer for 15 minutes. As it cooks, make sure to regularly mix and scrap the bottom of the pasta sauce pot with a wooden spoon so it doesn’t stick. After 15 minutes, remove from heat, roughly tear herbs and add to the pot.
While the sauce is cooking, start to clean the mussels, removing barnacles or impurities. To do this, scrap the outside of the shells with the tip of a paring knife to remove any impurities - holding your thumb on the tip of your knife blade will give you good control. Make sure to remove the beard, which is the mass of elastic threads poking out the side (easiest done with the pointy mussel side away from you) - to do this, using a knife, carefully grab hold of the beard between your fingers and blade and pull towards you. Once cleaned, place mussels into a nearby bowl filled with salty water, to keep them closed.
Once the mussels are clean, take directly from the salted water and add to the finished sauce - mix well after the addition of a few, and repeat.
Place the soup pot lid back on, turn onto medium heat, giving it a mix every few minutes making sure to scrap the bottom, until the mussels open - this will take only five or so minutes. The mussels will introduce more water to the dish - don’t worry about this, it will add lovely flavour! Once opened, they’re cooked.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Boil water in a stove pot. Add a Tbsp of both salt and olive oil. Cook spaghetti to packet directions until al dente (cooked with a bit of a bite - the pasta sauce will keep cooking it!). Drain pasta.
To serve, remove mussels from sauce and place into a large serving dish. Toss pasta with the sauce - taste test, and adjust salt if needed. The sauce will thicken as it cools.
Serve with mussels topped over pasta (either in their shells or remove), or keep mussels separate on a side plate.
Gluten-free? Use gluten-free pasta.Egg-free? Check to see your pasta is egg-free.