The total cooking time is three minutes excluding the preparation. That’s what takes time. Rinsing the mussels repeatedly, soaking them in water then rinsing them again before debearding.
Yes, fresh mussels need to be rinsed repeatedly and soaked to force the molluscs to spit out whatever grits are trapped inside the shells. This step may not be necessary when cooking farm-raised mussels but that’s not what we get from the market so we always soak them.
Once the mussels are clean, you have to pull out the “beard” or, to refer to it by its proper name, the byssus — filaments that mussels (and a few other molluscs) grow so they can attach themselves to rocks and other solid surfaces. A strand is about the same size of human hair so we can forgive whoever first used the term “beard” to refer to byssus.
When the mussels are soaked, the beard often peeps between the two halves of the shell. Just tug it off with an up and down motion either with your fingers or tweezers. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to accidentally chew them. It’s not a pleasant sensation. So, remove and discard.
The cleaned mussels are now ready to go into a very hot oven. After one minute, the mussel flesh will be partially cooked and the shell is easier to break at the “hinge”. Just discard the empty half shells.
Arrange the mussels on the half shell on a baking tray, spoon some tomato sauce over the flesh, lay a slice of mozzarella over the tomato sauce and sprinkle in Parmesan. Cook the mussels for another two minutes. That’s enough time to cook the mussel flesh through, heat the tomato sauce and melt the cheeses.
Baked mussels with mozzarella and Parmesan
- Rinse, scrub and rinse the mussels. Repeat a few times.
- Place the mussels in a bowl, sprinkle in a tablespoon of salt and pour in enough water to cover. Cover the bowl and soak in the fridge for two hours.
- Preheat the oven to 475F.
- Drain the mussels and pull out the beard.
- Spread the cleaned mussels on a baking tray. Cook at 475F for one minute. You just want the shells to open so don’t overcook them.
- Take the mussels out of the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Leave the oven on.
- Open the mussels, break off the empty half shells and discard. If some of the flesh sticks to both sides of the shell, use a small spoon to separate the flesh sticking on the side of the shell that you’re going to discard.
- Arrange the mussels on the half shell in a single layer in a clean baking tray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Ladle a teaspoonful of tomato sauce on each mussel. Top with a slice of mozzarella. Sprinkle the mussels with grated Parmesan.
- Return the mussels into the oven and cook for one to two minutes, or until the cheeses have melted.
- Take the mussels out of the oven, transfer to a plate (or plates), sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.