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What do you do when a seafood recipe calls for sea water? Unless you live right by the sea, you're probably at loss for a substitute, right? Not if you use mussels. That's the advice chef Marcella Venturini and gastronomer Gilberto Cigognetti gave us at Slow Fish 2013 in Genova. Their tips are very useful when it comes to preparing a variety of mussel dishes.
You see, mussels retain sea water to breathe. When you buy mussels at the fish market, check the weight of different bags and take what seems heavier: it means that the mussels contain more water and are also cooler.
After cleaning the mussels (see below), cook a couple of minutes in a covered pot with nothing, until they are all open. They will release all of their sea water which can be used for different preparations: the Italian ''aqua pazza'' (crazy water), stock for risotto, fish soup or a seafood stew like bouillabaisse. The mussel broth can also be frozen to be used later.
How To Recognize and Clean Fresh Mussels
Mussels should be cooked only if they are still alive. If they are closed, it means you are in the clear. If they are slightly open, tap on the shell to see if it closes. If it closes the mussel is still alive, if not then toss it.
If the shell happens to have a hole or crack (however small), the mussel can not be eaten.
To clean the shells put them under running water and rub against each other for a few minutes. Run under the water until the mussels feel smooth with no visible gritty residue. Never put mussels in standing water (i.e., in a bowl of water): they will open to breathe, releasing the salt water and absorbing the tap water. That's exactly what we want to avoid.
To remove the external "beards" external, take the mussel so that the opening of the valve is facing up and tear down the fibers.
Note: Mussels are much more sustainable than other types of seafood because they are much easier to breed and do not need to attach themselves to rocks or bottom, so you can fish with less damage to the environment.