They’re cheap, quick-cooking, sustainable and downright yummy … yet most people I speak with are skittish about cooking bivalves like mussels and clams. Such a pity.
I came to love bivalves while in France. My first time eating mussels was at my maman’s house in Lyon, where she showed me how to cook moules marinere—mussels steamed with onions and tomatoes. This was a working-class household who watered their wine, and mussels fit their frugal budget. Of course, they were scrumptious too.
So if you’re interest is piqued and you’re feeling adventurous, let’s get some bivalves in your kitchen.
How to Buy and Store Bivalves
Mussels and clams are alive when you buy them (and, actually, when you cook them), so be sure to give them air. Your best bet is to lay a moist kitchen towel in a wide bowl and pour in the mussels or clams. Then fold the towel over the top and place in the fridge.
How to Cook Mussels and Clams
The shells should be tightly closed when you take them out of the fridge. If you find one that’s not, give it a little pinch (sometimes they’re just a little jolted from the cold); if it still doesn't close tightly, pitch it in the trash.
Most mussels come “debearded” when you buy them these days, but check the flat seam of the shell for loose, hairy strands and tug them off if you see any. Soak clams in cold water for 10 minutes or so to loosen any grit, then transfer them to a colander and give them a rinse before cooking.
Mussels are a bit more delicate than clams and are best steamed—although don’t let that hamper your creativity. Try the classic onions, white wine and tomato sauce, or our lip-smacking Curried Mussels (makes my mouth water just thinking of them). Clams take to steaming well too, but they’re also happy being roasted or grilled. In any case, be sure to take bivalves off the heat shortly after they open to avoid drying them out.
How to Eat
My French maman taught me a fun trick to eating mussels. Take the first mussel out of the shell, and then use that shell as a pincher to pull the other mussels out one by one—no fork needed. With any steamed bivalves, too, there will be gorgeous broth to sop up; so plan ahead with some crusty bread or sticky brown rice.
And just in case you’re still feeling squeamish, here’s a little video I shot a while back actually cooking this dish—Clams with Bacon and Garlicky Spinach. Give it a gander and you’ll see how easy it is!