If you have bought mussels that need to be debearded, you might be feeling a little uncertain about how this process works and what to do. Many mussels are already debearded before they are sold, but it is perfectly possible to purchase mussels that need this doing – so it’s a technique that’s worth learning.
How do you debeard mussels? To debeard a mussel, you will need to take the fringe of fibers that sprouts out of the shell and gently tug this fringe toward the hinge of the mussel’s shell. It should pull loose, although you will sometimes need to use a knife to scrape the beard off instead. Usually, farm-raised mussels will have been debearded in advance, but it is still worth checking.
How Do You Debeard a Mussel?
Before cooking the mussels, you will want to rinse and debeard them, removing any residue that is on the shells and the fibrous hairs that sprout outward. You can debeard mussels by taking hold of these fibers and gently tugging on them in the direction of the mussel’s hinge. They should pull free fairly easily.
If the beard does not move, you may want to get a knife and use this to scrape off the hairs. This can be simpler than repeatedly trying to pull them off, especially if the mussels are slippery from being washed and you need to process a lot of them.
What is the “Beard” of a Mussel?
The mussel’s beard is a set of elasticated threads that are designed to hold the mussel tightly to the rocks. These are very strong and can withstand crashing waves and wild winds, but they aren’t good to eat, which is why we remove them before we consume mussels.
The “beard” is produced by a gland in the mussel’s foot, and it is also known as byssus filaments. They are strong threads, and in the past, they have been woven into cloth to create a fabric known as sea silk.
Can You Eat the Beard on Mussels?
It is common practice to remove the beard before cooking mussels, but it is worth noting that the beard is not inedible or even particularly horrible to eat. It is simply not very pleasant, which is why we tend to discard it, especially since mussel dishes are often a luxury and somewhat fancy food.
You don’t need to worry about removing the beard too thoroughly for this reason; it will not hurt you to eat a few leftover fibers, and you shouldn’t be concerned about them ruining the texture of the dish, either. These fibers are unlikely to be noticeable if the quantities are small and they have been well cooked.
On the whole, however, it is still advisable to remove the beard, rather than cooking it alongside the mussels. It does not add anything to the dish, and including a lot of these fibrous strands could ruin your food.
How Long Does It Take to Debeard Mussels?
The amount of time that debearding takes will vary depending on how experienced you are, but once you have got some practice in, you should be able to remove beards from a few pounds of mussels effectively within about fifteen minutes. If you are processing a lot of mussels, it will take longer.
You also need to clean mussels thoroughly before you cook them, as mussels often contain sand, grit, seaweed, barnacles, etc. None of this should go into your cooking, so it’s important to place the mussels in a colander and rinse them well.
Use a scrubbing brush to clean the shells one by one, and make sure that you get off all the spots and stuck-on dirt. Although farm-raised mussels (the kind that is most commonly sold) have usually been cleaned and debearded before they are sold, it is still best to clean them yourself before you eat them.
Not doing so could lead to a meal that is gritty and unpleasant, as some residue may remain on the shells. If you purchase wild mussels, you will probably need to be even more thorough about cleaning them in order to get a palatable dish, so make sure you check what you are buying.
What If a Mussel Doesn’t Have a Beard?
If you have bought mussels with intact beards, you might be concerned to find one that doesn’t seem to have a beard. However, this is nothing to worry about. It is likely that the beard has simply been pulled off while the mussel was being processed, even if this is not the case for most of the mussels in the batch.
The lack of a beard does not say anything about the mussel’s freshness, so it should be perfectly safe to eat whether or not the beard has been removed. Simply clean the shell as you would with the other mussels, and then set it in the pile.
The only things that you need to watch out for when cleaning mussels are cracked shells or open shells. Mussels with cracked shells should be discarded. If a mussel’s shell is open, tap it against a surface and then set it down for a few minutes.
If the shell does not close up within those few minutes, the mussel is dead, and it too should be thrown away. It is not safe to eat, because you will not have any way of telling how old the mussel is, and it may therefore have gone off.
Should You Remove the Beards on Mussels in Advance?
Only debeard and clean the mussels when you are ready to use them; doing so in advance could kill the mussels and ruin their freshness. It is better to wait until you are going to cook the mussels before you do any processing.
You can easily debeard mussels by pulling the fibrous hairs away from the shell with your fingers or a pair of pliers, or by using a knife to scrape them off. The beard of the mussel is harmless, but it is not particularly enjoyable to eat, so make sure you remove it before using the mussels.