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  #1  
Old 03-30-2004, 06:07 AM
Essured Essured is offline
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Closed mussels

I'm sure this has already been asked, but when I tried searching, I couldn't find anything...

When you cook mussels, everyone knows to throw out the ones that don't open.

But why?

Well, because they're bad.

But what specifically about them makes the bad ones not open, while "good" mussels do? What is the mechanism/cause that prevents them from opening?

Thanks in advance
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  #2  
Old 03-30-2004, 06:26 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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Bivalve shells are hinged with a ligament and kept closed by a strong muscle - on cooking, the animal inside is killed and the muscle cannot maintain its grip; the shell springs open. I think the implication is that shells remaining closed may have already been dead before the cooking process began, possibly for some time, and that something like rigor mortis is keeping the muscle in the tensed position.
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Old 03-30-2004, 07:10 AM
don't ask don't ask is offline
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Interestingly it was revealed to be a myth quite recently.
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Old 03-30-2004, 08:32 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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Interesting article, but it isn't exactly hard science, is it? He may be right, but I'd like to see some proper microbiology done on open and closed mussels before we come to a conclusion. His suggestion of a 'nose' test is potentially wrong too; stinky food isn't always unsafe and unsafe food isn't always stinky.
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Old 03-30-2004, 08:34 AM
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And his claim that the practice of discarding closed mussels originated in 1975 sounds highly suspect.
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Old 03-30-2004, 08:50 AM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is online now
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How does one gather mussels? Pick 'em off the pier pilings? Off of the rocks? Or do you have to gather them in depths where they are never out of the water?
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Old 03-30-2004, 08:56 AM
Max Torque Max Torque is offline
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Johnny, most mussels today are grown in a process called "rafting". They're basically cultivated on big nets that hang down into the water. The mussels are "seeded" onto the rope lines, they attach themselves with their tough "beard", and they just kinda hang out and filter the water that passes by for their food. When it's time to harvest, the ropes are pulled from the water and the mussels removed by big machines. The rafting process makes it easy to gather scads of quality mussels at one location.
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Old 03-30-2004, 09:05 AM
Philster Philster is offline
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Mmmmm....mussels.

The cooks I know don't recommend you eat a closed mussel because they believe the mussel didn't get steamed properly if it were protected by the shell. I know this isn't scientific, because it is likely to be just as hot inside the shell as outside, but many mussel connousuiers report that prying open a closed/near closed mussel often reveals meat that is less than desirable, and I would have to agree.

Mussels are so inexspensive in my neck of the woods that I wouldn't bother with the 2-3 closed ones in my big bowl. Six bucks should get you a huge bowl (the size a "big salad" for 4 people or more would be served in).

Mussels in white sauce, please. Extra bread for dipping.
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Old 03-30-2004, 09:20 AM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is online now
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Thanks, Max Torque. But I was wondering about collecting wild mussels. I've mostly lived by the water (San Diego, Los Angeles, Birch Bay) and I've always wondered about gathering wild mussels.

FWIW, Birch Bay has lots of clams and oysters. I'll plan on getting my license next week.
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  #10  
Old 03-30-2004, 09:49 AM
Chefguy Chefguy is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangetout
Bivalve shells are hinged with a ligament and kept closed by a strong muscle - on cooking, the animal inside is killed and the muscle cannot maintain its grip; the shell springs open. I think the implication is that shells remaining closed may have already been dead before the cooking process began, possibly for some time, and that something like rigor mortis is keeping the muscle in the tensed position.
Sorry, I don't buy this explanation. It's more likely that the shell doesn't open because it's either full of sand or there is a hole somewhere.

You can freeze clams and mussels (which kills the bivalve) and still steam them open. I believe they open because the water inside the shell turns to steam and forces the shell open. If the shell is full of sand or has an opening for the steam to escape, the shell stays closed.
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Old 03-30-2004, 09:53 AM
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  #12  
Old 03-30-2004, 10:05 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chefguy
Sorry, I don't buy this explanation. It's more likely that the shell doesn't open because it's either full of sand or there is a hole somewhere.

You can freeze clams and mussels (which kills the bivalve) and still steam them open. I believe they open because the water inside the shell turns to steam and forces the shell open. If the shell is full of sand or has an opening for the steam to escape, the shell stays closed.
You may be right in that my explanation may not be correct, but I don't buy your steam idea - the shells open wide when cooked - steam would only force them open a little, then the pressure would escape.
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Old 03-30-2004, 10:25 AM
Black Train Song Black Train Song is offline
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What about before cooking. I was always told to discard the ones that wouldn't close because I guess they were presumed DOA and thus, bad.

Yes? No?

Mussels Yummmmmmy!
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  #14  
Old 03-30-2004, 10:27 AM
TellMeI'mNotCrazy TellMeI'mNotCrazy is offline
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*sigh*

I really want some mussels now. In white sauce. With extra bread for dipping. Thanks, Philster and Essured.
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  #15  
Old 03-30-2004, 10:52 AM
Chefguy Chefguy is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangetout
You may be right in that my explanation may not be correct, but I don't buy your steam idea - the shells open wide when cooked - steam would only force them open a little, then the pressure would escape.
I think it can be related to the old pressure/temperature/volume equation. Water in a confined area that is suddenly turned to steam creates a small explosion of expansion, which would violently throw the shell back. Not all clams open fully or uniformly. Then again, I could be completely full of crap.
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  #16  
Old 03-30-2004, 10:58 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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My impression is that they open somewhat gradually, rather than with a pop.

Some empirical experimentation is required here and I am just the man to do it - that's right, hard, empirical science. And white wine sauce. It's a tough project, but I'm prepared to see it through. Maybe with some chunky granary bread.
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  #17  
Old 03-30-2004, 11:02 AM
Bippy the Beardless Bippy the Beardless is offline
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This is turning into something realy needy of investigation, is The Master in the house? That article is interesting, but the writer did not do a scientific test and is hardly a neutral observer (his dad owns a mussle farm, he was hired by the Mussel board).

I think their are a few points that are related but need answering

Are mussles that are open before cooking, dangerous to eat?

Are mussels that remain closed through cooking, dangerous?

Are mussels that open during cooking less likely to be dangerous to eat, than those that fail to open during cooking?

Does the opening or not of a mussel effect the flavour?
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  #18  
Old 03-30-2004, 12:07 PM
Cervaise Cervaise is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny L.A.
I've always wondered about gathering wild mussels.
Hey, you're in the Pacific Northwest now. Take a spin down to Whidbey Island and check out Penn Cove near Coupeville, one of the premium mussel-harvesting locations in several states. Grab a table at an area restaurant and have a bowl of mussels fresh off the beach, prepared in red curry broth and served with some crusty bread and a little butter and maybe a nice glass of gamay rouge from



Sorry, I had to go replace my keyboard. I shorted out my last one by drooling on it.
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  #19  
Old 03-30-2004, 12:44 PM
Eva Luna Eva Luna is online now
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Damn you people – now I’m hungry, too! There is a local pan-Asian place that does some really killer Vietnamese steamed mussels with some kind of citrusy sauce; I’m not sure whether it’s tamarind, or lemongrass, or both, or what, but it’s really yummy. Has anyone had something similar? Can I get a recipe?
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Old 03-30-2004, 01:20 PM
Max Torque Max Torque is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny L.A.
Thanks, Max Torque. But I was wondering about collecting wild mussels. I've mostly lived by the water (San Diego, Los Angeles, Birch Bay) and I've always wondered about gathering wild mussels.

FWIW, Birch Bay has lots of clams and oysters. I'll plan on getting my license next week.
Whoops. I thought you wanted to know about the commercial process.

In any case, from what I've heard, you're better off going with commercially-grown mussels than harvesting them in the wild. Mussels in the wild take a long time to reach a decent size, and an older mussel means a tougher meat. Plus, since their wild existence is more precarious than that of a rafted mussel, they have to focus their energies more on growing a tough shell than growing large. So, you'll probably get a better mussel at a shop than at the beach.
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Old 03-30-2004, 01:28 PM
Chefguy Chefguy is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eva Luna
Damn you people – now I’m hungry, too! There is a local pan-Asian place that does some really killer Vietnamese steamed mussels with some kind of citrusy sauce; I’m not sure whether it’s tamarind, or lemongrass, or both, or what, but it’s really yummy. Has anyone had something similar? Can I get a recipe?
They are most likely using lemongrass and fish sauce. I make a halibut dish that I flogged out of a local Vietnamese chef that involves marinating halibut in lemongrass, fish sauce, olive oil and chili paste. But we digress here.

Yes, experimentation is in order, preferably by way of moules provencale with a side of pommes frites and a crisp chardonnay.

Oh man...ohmanohmanohman...Brussels in mussels season...
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  #22  
Old 03-30-2004, 01:30 PM
Philster Philster is offline
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Wild mussels are not as tastey as the mussels that are farmed. The farmed mussels are fed a diet that makes them just right.

Also, mussels are one of a variety of sea creatures particulary sensitive to contamination.
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  #23  
Old 03-30-2004, 01:36 PM
Philster Philster is offline
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http://www.wholey.com/InternationalFAQ.html

"What if a Wholey Mussel does not open?

Sometimes a mussel does not open and can be opened with your fingers or a knife. They still should be good to eat. A foul odor usually indicates if a mussel has gone bad..."
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  #24  
Old 03-30-2004, 01:39 PM
Eva Luna Eva Luna is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chefguy
But we digress here.
So then I would be remiss if I digressed thusly?

http://fooddownunder.com/cgi-bin/search.cgi?q=mussel

And with that, I think I’d better stop torturing you folks and get some lunch…and why, oh why is Chicago not located on an ocean, darnit?
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Old 03-30-2004, 01:45 PM
UncleBeer UncleBeer is offline
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Quote:
Wild mussels are not as tastey as the mussels that are farmed. The farmed mussels are fed a diet that makes them just right.
I dunno about that. The last mussels I had were scooped off the floor of the Labrador Sea near St. Anthony, Newfoundland. We just used a medium mesh net attached to about an eight foot long pole. Scooped up a big ole tub of 'em in about 3 minutes. Boiled 'em less than an half-hour later in a coffee can on the beach (well the rocks that passed for a beach) over a driftwood fire one of the many little islands out there. Best ones I ever had. Ya gotta boil 'em in their native sea water tho' - or so the native Newfoundlander told me. Just the mussels and the salt water, no butter, sauces, herbs or nuttin. Mmmm-mmm-mm.

Quote:
My impression is that they open somewhat gradually, rather than with a pop.
This is my experience - the shell gradually opens and then stops when the edges of the shell halves form 30 to 45 degree angle. Just the right amount to prise the delectable little gems from their haven.
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Old 03-30-2004, 02:32 PM
quothz quothz is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangetout
I think the implication is that shells remaining closed may have already been dead before the cooking process began, possibly for some time, and that something like rigor mortis is keeping the muscle in the tensed position.
No, you can purchase frozen mussels which are already dead. The shells still open most of the time, but not always. That indicates to me that it isn't a factor.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangetout
And his claim that the practice of discarding closed mussels originated in 1975 sounds highly suspect.
It did to me, too, so I dug out my 1967 Joy of Cooking. It says that mussels are done steaming when they open, but doesn't say a word about discarding closed ones. So it is possible that '75 is correct.
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Old 03-30-2004, 03:02 PM
Philster Philster is offline
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Maybe you got lucky, UnlceBeer

Wild mussels are gathered from the bottom of the sea, where they have to watch out for crabs, starfish and other predators. In their defense they grow a tougher, thicker shell.

Farmed mussels are grown on vines suspended above the ocean bottom. These mussels do not have to worry about predators, so they spend more time and energy growing body mass instead of growing shell. The result is mussel with a lighter shell and a plumper, more tender meat. They are therefore a better food value with a higher meat to shell ratio than the wild variety.

Back to the OP. Openeing a closed mussel is okay. I've seen several sites about it and provided a link to a mussel grower. It's actually on the front end that you want to concern yourself: Don't cook a mussel that isn't closed, because it could have been dead for some time.

Now that I hung up with my chef friend, he wanted my to talk about why closed but cooked mussels are often discarded: Because they didn't open, the mussel might be overcooked causing the meat to be less than desirable. This would lead to people interpretting the mussel as 'bad'.

So, open the closed ones after cooking and enjoy (if the meat hasn't been ruined by the pressure/temp) and don't cook the mussels that are opened.
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  #28  
Old 03-30-2004, 03:29 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by quothz
No, you can purchase frozen mussels which are already dead. The shells still open most of the time, but not always. That indicates to me that it isn't a factor.
I agree, however it was my thought that perhaps a mussel that fails to open is long dead, as opposed to fresh (or fresh-frozen) - this would make sense if the muscles and other structures had started to decay a little.
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Old 03-30-2004, 03:56 PM
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All I've got to say is:
Tomato garlic sauce, over homemade pasta.

That is, uh, closed ones, uh, maybe won't get good sauce on them, so you want to discard them. Maybe that's it! Yeah, there's a possibly answer.

(Darn supermarket out of mussels just before I got there two days ago...)
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Old 03-30-2004, 04:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangetout
I agree, however it was my thought that perhaps a mussel that fails to open is long dead, as opposed to fresh (or fresh-frozen) - this would make sense if the muscles and other structures had started to decay a little.
Still clinging to our tired little theory, are we? Wellllllallllrighhhhhtythen...

TO THE LABORATORY!!


















::burp:: S'okay, they all opened...nothin' to see here...
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Old 03-30-2004, 05:02 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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Yes, to the laboratory! With chopped garlic and parsley in molar quantities.
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Old 03-30-2004, 05:10 PM
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Not to nudge this thread ever closer to being moved, but dare we discuss the proper eating method for mussels? But of course we do.

The only acceptable method is the Belgian method. One picks up the first mussel, removes the meat with a fork and eats it; put the fork down and do not touch it again upon pain of ostracism; use the empty shell as a pair of tongs to retrieve another mussel; grasp the uneaten mussel by its shell; pick the meat out with the shell tongs; consume; repeat.
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Old 03-30-2004, 05:17 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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Ah, now you see there's something significant about what you just said.

The empty shell naturally springs open; I propose that this is also the case while the organism is alive (or freshly dead) - that the hinge ligament is sprung in such a way as to tend to open the shell and that the organism inside exerts constant muscular force against this spring action, to maintain closure of the shell.
however, upon cooking, the muscle attachment to the shell (which I'm presuming is some kind of gelatinous tendon or sheath-type arrangment) dissolves and the shell opens.

Sound plausible? Does to me.
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Old 03-30-2004, 05:32 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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I thought it was about time we did some actual research on the subject and found this:
Quote:
Ligament: In bivalves, a horny elastic structure or structures joining the two valves dorsally, mostly posterior to the beaks, and acting as a spring that causes the valves to open when adductor muscles relax, the external ligament being under tension, the internal (sometimes called "cartilage" or "resilium") being under compression. The ligament is usually situated slightly behind the embryonic shell (umbo). The ligament may be external (dorsal to the hinge) or internal (ventral to the hinge).
(emphasis mine)
So, am I'm right in saying that cooking mussels typically causes the meat to become detached from the shell? If so, then the shell opens naturally.

So, reasons for the shell NOT opening would seem to be:
-something wrong with the ligament (maybe decayed and lost its elasticity in a mussel that has been dead too long to be safely eaten)
-Failure of the meat to detach from the shell, perhaps 'just because' or perhaps a large amount of sand inside could act as a heat sink and prevent the thing from cooking fully...
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Old 03-30-2004, 05:34 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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Or another reason might be that the 'lips' of the shell adhered to one another during cooking - the rim of the shell is the newest part and it is sometimes softish - it's easy to imagine this getting gummed together under heat.
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Old 03-30-2004, 05:47 PM
Eva Luna Eva Luna is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chefguy
The only acceptable method is the Belgian method.
On behalf of the now-liberated Southeast Asians, I cry European cultural colonialism! There are no inferior mussel-eating methods, only different ones!
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Old 03-30-2004, 05:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangetout
I thought it was about time we did some actual research on the subject and found this:


So, am I'm right in saying that cooking mussels typically causes the meat to become detached from the shell? If so, then the shell opens naturally.

So, reasons for the shell NOT opening would seem to be:
-something wrong with the ligament (maybe decayed and lost its elasticity in a mussel that has been dead too long to be safely eaten)
-Failure of the meat to detach from the shell, perhaps 'just because' or perhaps a large amount of sand inside could act as a heat sink and prevent the thing from cooking fully...

Hmmm...it pains me to say you may have something here. But it doesn't address whether or not it's safe to eat unopened mussels or not. You may have solv-ed the mysterie, Clouseau.







::mangez-toi zis, damn you!::
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Old 03-30-2004, 06:01 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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I suspect that any of the reasons could apply to different unopened mussels in the same batch - some of them may be simply gummed up at the shell edges, others may have failed to detach from the shell and yet others might have decayed a bit, in which case some would be safe and others less so.
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  #39  
Old 03-30-2004, 06:09 PM
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"UncleBeer
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Old 03-30-2004, 07:54 PM
mangeorge mangeorge is offline
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I'm having a pot pie for dinner. You all suck.

I hate these damned food threads.
I sticking with Lydia (the Italian-American chef, whom I shall marry) on this one.
All the yummy little rascals should be closed when you start to cook 'em. You might have to pester them some to get the open ones to close. If they don't, toss 'em.
Cook them in a really good, extra garlicy, marinara sauce, which is for the bread. The mussels themselves are delicate and don't need dressing, imo. The essence of the sauce that gets on during cooking is plenty.
I tiss the ones that don't open, but most of them usually do.
I also like mussels in putanesca sauce, on spaghetti. Yes, I use the shells as tweezers.
I'm crying.
Peace,
mangeorge
BTW; I don't know of any food from the sea that should smell bad.
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  #41  
Old 03-30-2004, 08:45 PM
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I eat mussels frequently, both the store-bought variety and those that I gather here on the coast of Maine. The ones I gather (you gather at low tide) are harder to clean because they are often covered with barnacles and the beard is hard to remove, but they taste the same as store-bought to me.

I believe that a shell that will not close is a dead mussle and I've got a couple of good reasons to think so. In the first place, the ones from the wild always close their shell. And secondly, when I get them at the store a 2 lb. bag usually has maybe 4 that won't close OR MANY that won't close, suggesting that they are old.

I've learned that you have to be really mean to them before you decide they won't close. The first time you go through them tap all the open ones. Then go through all those again and really whack any that still did not close. Give them a few minutes and you'd be surprised at how many close that initally were stubborn.
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Old 03-30-2004, 09:07 PM
miss smartypants miss smartypants is offline
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Opps! All that and I forgot to answer the question...

I've never had one that did not open in cooking. Ususally they open wide, but occasionally one will open just a sliver.

I have also gathered wild periwinkles. I have read that they serve them in English pubs--Winkies, they call them. Although there are billions and billions of them on the Maine coast, I read that they are not native but came accross on the ships many years ago.
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Old 03-31-2004, 06:08 AM
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Thanks to all, this thread was an entertaining read.

Special thanks to Mangetout for the spot of research. It was the "why" of opening/not opening that was bugging me, and it looks like you hit it on the nose.

Now off to do some cooking
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Old 03-31-2004, 07:43 AM
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As long as we're on the subject of mussels... My Mom had a cookbook a long while ago that had instructions for mussels and clams, saying that after you bring them home, you should put them in a pot of cold water and leave in the refrigerator overnight. For mussels you were supposed to add oatmeal (?) to the water , and for clams, you add cornmeal (?). The concept is that the shellfish will eat the food overnight and become fatter. Does anyone here do this?
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Old 03-31-2004, 08:03 AM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is online now
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My Mom had a cookbook a long while ago that had instructions for mussels and clams, saying that after you bring them home, you should put them in a pot of cold water and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
I've heard that putting clams in water allows them to expell sand. Would they be put in salt water? Seems to me that fresh water would kill them.
Quote:
For mussels you were supposed to add oatmeal (?) to the water , and for clams, you add cornmeal (?). The concept is that the shellfish will eat the food overnight and become fatter.
From don't ask's link:
Quote:
His research, unveiled to the industry last week, also disposed of another myth. He found that you cannot fatten mussels by putting them in water with flour or oatmeal. Confronted with such alien foodstuffs, they just clam up.
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Old 03-31-2004, 08:06 AM
Philster Philster is offline
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(sure, IF they eat overnight they get bigger, but they ain't putting on MEAT just yet, just more digestive goo)
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Old 03-31-2004, 07:49 PM
mangeorge mangeorge is offline
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Mmmm. Digestive goo.
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