A fragrant bowl of steamed mussels with flecks of parsley and other herbs—yum! Mussels are available year-round but, in many parts of the country, they are the quintessential summer meal, light and flavorful, evocative of the sea in a way that a simple piece of fish can’t match.

What’s more: Mussels are very healthful. One portion (about one pound, or 20 to 25 unshucked mussels) yields about 3.5 to four ounces of cooked meat. From this relatively modest portion, you get about 24 grams of protein, nearly as much as in an average-sized pork chop or chicken breast. Mussels also contain healthful amounts of vitamin C, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids…they are a good source of iron, phosphorus, manganese, thiamin, riboflavin and folate…and all this for about 172 calories!

Mussels are also surprisingly easy to cook. Bobby Shapiro, owner of the two Flex Mussels restaurants in New York City, tells High Energy for Life readers how to buy and prepare delicious mussels…

BUYING MUSSELS

Two pounds of fresh mussels, often sold in a net bag, costs about $6 to $8— and feeds two. You can buy them at fish markets or the fresh fish section of your grocery store. They should be alive. Look to make sure the shells are tightly closed—and that they have a fresh sea smell, with no ammonia-like odor. Live mussels keep their shells tightly closed. If they are slightly gaping, they should close up when you tap on the shell. If they don’t close, don’t buy them.

The US imports mussels mainly from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Other major mussel producers are China, Spain, Italy, Thailand, France and New Zealand. Most of the mussels we eat are farmed—and the farming method has very little impact on the marine habitat. In fact, unlike farmed fish, mussels do not require fishmeal or fish oil as part of their diet, but instead eat plankton, naturally-occurring microscopic organisms. Since diseases are rare in mussels, they are never treated with chemicals or antibiotics the way farmed seafood is.

COOKING MUSSELS

When you get the mussels home, refrigerate them in a bowl covered with a damp cloth. Since they must be alive when cooked, it’s best to buy and cook them on the same day. Before cooking, soak mussels in cool water for 20 to 30 minutes—this will encourage them to expel the sand within their shells. Just before cooking, rinse them under cool water and scrub any dirt from the shells. Pull away any hairlike beard on any part of the shell. After cooking, discard any unopened mussels.

Steaming is the most popular way to cook mussels. They also can be boiled, baked or barbecued on the grill. The classic way to steam mussels is to put one-half cup of chopped onions, one clove of sliced garlic and one and a quarter cups of liquid—see the choices below—in the bottom of a large pot. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Bring the liquid to a boil for one minute. Add the mussels, cover the pot tightly, and cook for six to eight minutes or until almost all the shells are open. Celery, tomatoes, thyme, oregano and/or parsley can be added to the pot while cooking, or the herbs can be sprinkled over the cooked mussels. Use water, chicken broth or white wine for the liquid. Mussels also can be served with tomato sauce and served over pasta, or steamed, removed from the shell and combined with other seafood for a cold salad.