Flexing Our Mussels (And Other Shellfish)

Kowalski's Italian MusselsDespite the name, shellfish aren't fish – they're merely animals that live in water. The category of shellfish includes mollusks as well as crustaceans. Bivalves are mollusks that have two shells joined by a hinge, such as scallops, oysters, clams and mussels. Crustaceans, like shrimp, lobster and crab, have jointed exterior skeletons. Both offer delicious dinnertime options.

When confronted with these "strange" creatures in the seafood case, many Midwesterners often walk on by because they don't know what to do with them. We here in the Upper Midwest may regard mollusks in particular with a skeptical eye, but inexperience with the category shouldn't prevent you from giving these tasty options a spin.

Mollusks are almost easier to make than toast. They're also fast to prepare and have unique health benefits. Some people shy away from cooking them at home out of concern that they are unsafe or difficult to clean, while in fact they're not only safe but very simple to prepare. As for sustainability, mussels, clams and oysters sold at Kowalski's are each considered an industry "Best Choice" for environmental sustainability.

As mollusks are alive before cooking, it is important they aren't stored in airtight containers or submerged in water. Mollusks with cracked, chipped or broken shells or ones that won't stay closed when pinched or tapped should be discarded. When serving them, remember to set a clean plate at the table to collect the empty shells.

Mussels have a much more intense flavor than clams and a firmer texture. To prepare them for cooking, first rinse them under cool running water and pull off their "beards" (see Good Question below); scrub with a stiff brush. Mussels are often eaten with a small seafood fork, which is used to pull the mussel from its shell. Some will use the fork to eat their first mussel and then disregard it, preferring to use the first shell as a utensil with which to eat their remaining mussels.

Linguine with Clams Crab and Avocado Rolls

Clams come in a wide range of sizes; in general, the larger the tougher. Big ones are usually chopped and used in chowders. Smaller clams are typically steamed. To clean clams, soak them in cool water for five to ten minutes so they open a bit and purge any trapped sand (don't oversoak them or they'll suffocate). When they close again, they should be rinsed in cool water and scrubbed with a stiff brush.

Mollusks are Good Foods for Good Health and rich in several important nutrients, including:

  • Good Foods for Good Health logoiron, which is important for a strong immune system plus the production of blood and how oxygen is transported through your body, and
  • selenium, which acts like an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage. It also supports a healthy immune system.
Mussels, clams and oysters are off the charts when it comes to vitamin B12. This vitamin is necessary for maintaining healthy nerve cells, and it's needed for the production of DNA and RNA, your body's genetic material. A 3-ounce serving of any of these mollusks contains three to 10 times the B12 you need in a day.
GOOD QUESTION: What about debearding?
Farm-raised mussels (90% of the mussels eaten worldwide are cultivated) don't usually have the strands that wild mussels need to keep themselves attached to rocks in the ocean. If your mussel has a "beard," just grasp it with a clean kitchen towel and yank it free; discard this fibrous material.
Up to 30 varieties of oysters, mussels and clams are available in the Seafood Department, typically with 2-3 days notice. Ask at your local Kowalski's Market for assistance with your special order.

Featured Recipes

Kowalski's Italian Mussels
Linguine with Clams
Crab and Avocado Rolls

Selection and availability vary by market.

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