Not unlike their bivalve cousin, the oyster, mussels are exceedingly delicious and a surprisingly sustainable seafood option. While not as dignified and high culture as the oyster, the mussel is part of the bivalvia mollusca family (like the clam) and exist in both freshwater and seawater and are commonly consumed smoked, boiled, steamed, roasted, barbecued or fried in butter. Sure there are bad mussels out there (I personally have had a dark night of the soul with one of them) but as long as you know a few rules and practice a certain amount of caution, you are more likely to get sick from a jar of peanut butter than a fresh mussel.
Safety is one thing, but with most seafood being a decidedly unsustainable luxury these days, it is refreshing to learn that mussels are almost always farmed sustainably and they naturally filter the water they are cultivated in (think of them as shelled Britta filters). While not all mussels are palatable to humans (the ones we don’t eat the birds and other marine life will certainly enjoy) at least 17 varieties are cultivated for human consumption, with the most common being the Mytilus edulis, M. galloprovincialis, M. trossellus and Perna canaliculus (don’t expect to get anything but blank stares from the fish monger when you ask for them by their Latin name).
As Francis Lam remarked in a piece he wrote on the subject of mussels he wrote for Salon.com, ” it’s time for mussels to get shown a little love.” Because of their hard shell and the innate fear of poisoning yourself, and your family, the mussel can seem like an intimidating proposition. But fear not. With a minor attention to detail and some consumer savvy, you too can be eating a fast, cheap, and sustainable dinner.