This is really simple, so up to now I didn't think it would warrant an entry on this weblog, but since many people seem to think it's a lot more difficult, I decided to publish it nevertheless.
Make sure you get good quality live mussels. Usually you'll get the best mussels between September and March. Frozen mussels only have a fraction of the taste and a somewhat rubbery consistency, so avoid them unless you have no other choice. Also prepare them as soon as possible after buying them. They'll keep one or two days in the fridge if put in an open(!) bowl without(!) any water in it, but they're best when freshest.
Fresh mussels should not really smell of anything other than sea water. Stay clear of them if they have a fishy or even ammonia-like smell.
Unless served as a starter, the ingredients are per person:
- 1kg live mussels
- 1 celery stick, sliced
- 3-4 shallots (depending on size), sliced
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ground black pepper
- 1 small bunch fresh green parsley, chopped
If you bought uncleaned mussels, clean the shells with a stiff kitchen brush. Pull out the hairy beard (byssus).
Better still, buy pre-cleaned mussels. They're more expensive, but it'll save you an hour of pretty tedious work.
Rinse under water and throw away all mussels with broken shells, open mussels and half-open mussels that don't close within a minute when you tap on the shell. Also check for beards and remove if necessary.
Put some water into a large pot. How much water is a matter of taste and testing, but you'll need a lot less water than you'd think at first. I usually use a 3-litre pot and fill in 1.5 cm (approx. 400-500ml) water. The mussels will lose a lot of water during the cooking process, so you really don't need more, and it doesn't taste nice if it becomes too watery.
Add the shallots, celery, parsley, salt, pepper and cleaned mussels. Stir, so that the ingredients are well mixed in the pot. Put the lid on and bring to the boil.
Once the water is boiling you'll notice immediately if you have enough water, as the pot will be on the brim of overboiling. Reduce the heat so that it doesn't, and cook for 3-4 minutes.
Remove from the heat and serve immediately, in the pot. As a side dish, serve French bread or French fries. Do NOT eat any mussels that have not opened.
Variations (all variations are based on the ingredients above):
- for moules au vin blanc, use 200ml water and 250ml white wine and add a twig of rosemary.
- for moules à l'ail, add 3 finely chopped cloves garlic.
- for moules provençales, leave away the celery, use 150ml water and 250ml white wine and add 2 chopped skinned tomatoes, 2 chopped cloves garlic, half a small diced fennel bulb, 1 twig thyme and 1 twig rosemary.
- for moules crème, use 300ml water and 125ml crème fraîche.