Q.: I make cioppino every Christmas Eve. The recipe calls for mussels and states to cook until they open. Can you define “open?” I do check the mussels to see if they are alive by tapping them on the counter before I cook them. Is open, one-quarter of an inch, or laid wide open like some flashing mollusk? I usually end up tossing many of the mussels for fear of getting sick.
— Barbara Bigam
A.: Mussels should be open wide enough to reveal their meat inside, so, yes, more to the flasher stage. However, if you are checking to make sure they are alive before you cook them (when tapped on the counter, their shells should close tightly), it is possible that you just need to cook them a bit longer to get all of them to open.
Most mussels will open after five to 10 minutes of cooking or steaming. It’s perfectly fine to remove the opened ones from the pot at five minutes and to continue to cook the rest so they have more time to open. Plus, this will prevent you from overcooking the ones that opened early.
It’s a good idea to give the pot a shake during cooking so that the mussels don’t stick or burn.
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