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Mussels are a popular seafood around the world. Picture: Astrid Volzke/The West Australian

Mussels are a popular seafood around the world.

They have an earthier and less-sweet flavour than scallops and are very good cooked with ingredients such as garlic or curry that may overwhelm a more delicate seafood.

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In the past, saltwater and freshwater mussels were a primary food source for Native American tribes of the south-eastern United States.

Huge mounds were formed of the discarded shells, which archaeologists now call shell middens.

These days, we usually eat only saltwater mussels.

If buying live mussels, make sure they are alive before cooking them.

Tap any open mussels, and if they don't close, throw them away. Pull off any "beards", or fibrous strings, from the outside of the shells and wash the mussels well, scrubbing with a brush if they are muddy or sandy. After cooking, discard any mussels that do not open.

Unlike oysters, mussels are always cooked.

They can be simply steamed open in wine or broth and served with bread, cooked as part of a fish stew or curry, served over pasta, removed from the shell and fried in a breadcrumb coating or mixed into fritter batter, even stuffed and grilled.

Tinned smoked mussels are great tossed into pasta sauce or Cajun dishes such as jambalaya.

RECIPE: MUSSELS WITH SAUCE RAVIGOTE
Serves 4 as an entree

1 hard-boiled large egg
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1 medium onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
2 teaspoons drained bottled capers, rinsed, chopped if large
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh chervil or tarragon
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
16 large New Zealand green-lipped mussels, pre-cooked, on the half shell

Peel and halve egg, then force it through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl using back of a spoon. Whisk in oil, vinegar, onion, capers, mustard, parsley, chervil, chives, salt and pepper until sauce is combined well. Chill for one hour.

Detach mussels from shells, then return to shell. Spoon a generous amount of sauce over each mussel and serve cold.
- Adapted from Gourmet magazine

RECIPE: MUSSELS IN RED CURRY
Serves 4

1 can coconut milk (light milk will be thinner)
1/4 cup red curry paste, more or less to taste
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
700 grams whole small mussels, cleaned or 500g large green lip mussels on the half shell
1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped
Hot cooked jasmine rice for serving

Whisk the coconut milk, curry paste, vinegar, brown sugar and fish sauce or salt together in a large saucepan. Heat to a simmer. Taste and adjust with more sugar, salt or vinegar to your taste.

Add mussels. If whole live mussels, cover, bring back to simmer and cook 5 minutes until shells open. Discard any mussels that don't open.

If using green-lipped mussels, add to the liquid and bring to a simmer for two minutes, uncovered, just to warm.

Serve sprinkled with the coriander, with hot cooked jasmine rice.