dead floaters?
August 29, 2008 3:26 AM   Subscribe

Why are floating mussels to be discarded before cooking?

I'm trying to cook mussels. Looking around various sites, I am told to throw out any mussels which float in a bowl of cold water before cooking. Other sites say not to worry about it, they have eaten many floaters and been fine. I know not to eat any which will not close their shells or which are not sealed properly, but I have a batch where most of them float, but otherwise respond as "alive" closing their shells etc. I'm confused?
The Joy of cooking, my usual fallback for cooking discrepancies, does not comment on the floating / sinking issue, just that they better be closed before preparation. Does anybody know why the floating ones should be discarded? Any other mussel insights?
posted by defcom1 to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would say go with the open/closed system. I'd agree 100% with the advice given here. The floating/sinking thing seems to be one of those things people repeat because they read/hear it somewhere else.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:56 AM on August 29, 2008

If the ones that float close their shells when tapped gently on the counter, then they are alive and should be no problem. They would be floating because their shell was closed with air trapped inside. But you shouldn't be soaking them for any length of time in fresh water, it will draw the salts out of their bodies and kill them. They are best cleaned and de-bearded in a colander under running water, and each individual then given the tap test.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:44 AM on August 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think it's just a rule of thumb - the dead ones are likely to float, though not all floaters are dead. If they pass the tap test, they're absolutely fine. And I'd slightly disagree with kuujjuarapik - you can safely keep them in water for a few hours, say if you've bought them in the morning and are serving them for dinner, but do the cleaning under running water. (I say that having cooked hundreds of kilos of mussels over the years, without anyone ever suffering an upset stomach.)

Any other mussel insights?

Keep it simple! Butter, shallots, garlic, and white wine (one you'd be happy to drink); maybe chuck a bouquet garni in the pot for a bit of oomph. I know cream and parsley are traditional, but I think they're a step too far myself.
posted by jack_mo at 2:49 PM on August 29, 2008

While keeping them in water might not kill them, I can't think of any reason that, after purchase, mussels should get submerged in water. I have always kept them in the fridge on ice with a wet paper towel over them (as was recommended by the seafood department I used to get them at) and never had problems. Also, if the water gets to room temperature it might encourage bacteria growth.

defcom1, floaters should be fine as long as they open and close (keeping in mind that iced/refrigerated mussels will have slower reaction times). And of course, if one doesn't open during the cooking process, don't eat it.

You could always run a test while cooking your mussels and see if more non-floaters than floaters open during cooking.

the cooking suggestion jack_mo has is by far, the best way to eat mussels, imho. (served with some lightly toasted french bread)
posted by silkygreenbelly at 3:18 PM on August 29, 2008

(I have substituted red for white wine in an emergency and they were still wonderful, although the shallots turned pink)
posted by silkygreenbelly at 3:21 PM on August 29, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice! We had a successful dinner with the batch of floaters, all of them opened up very quickly and were delicious. 12 hours later.. we didn't get sick!
posted by defcom1 at 6:42 PM on August 29, 2008

While keeping them in water might not kill them, I can't think of any reason that, after purchase, mussels should get submerged in water.

I've only done it with huge batches when the fridge is already full, to be honest. I assume it's better than leaving them sitting around in a bag on the kitchen counter.

Anyway, glad your mussels went well, defcom1!
posted by jack_mo at 1:12 AM on August 30, 2008

Soaking mussels in water on the day that you are going to serve them is no big deal. But it does quite seriously effect their shelf life, sometimes even a quick soak can shorten it by days. Silkygreenbelly has the storage right: in the fridge, in a hotel pan with a damp cloth over them. It even helps if you keep them tightly in the mesh sack that they came in. This will keep the mussels from naturally opening and closing as they like to do, and prevents drying out. Provided the mussels weren't harvested in a summer heat wave or winter freezing spell which tends to stress the animals, a bag of mussels can be kept over 2 weeks after harvest this way.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:31 AM on August 30, 2008

And of course, if one doesn't open during the cooking process, don't eat it.

actally they're ok to eat.
posted by onya at 10:59 AM on July 26, 2009

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