Beautiful dark-blue mollusks, mussels cling to rocks in tidal areas and are also cultivated on underwater pilings or ropes. When buying mussels, look for clean, shiny, tightly closed shells, discarding any that are opened or that are unusually heavy (these last are likely filled with mud). Before cooking, scrub well under water and remove the beards. Picking and cleaning can be the hardest part about cooking mussels -- these tender and sweet morsels only need to be cooked for a short time; a quick steaming is one of the most popular ways to cook them.
Moules Mariniere, or "mariner's mussels," is a classic and easy French dish that includes a cooking liquid of shallots, butter, thyme, and white wine. Serve with a crusty baguette to soak up the flavorful broth.
Instead of using a more traditional pan, you can steam mussels in a parchment parcel that goes straight from the oven and to the table. Serve the dish family-style, with a loaf of crusty bread.