dish of steamed mussels

How to steam mussels

Expert tips for how to steam mussels.

PEI mussels are world-famous for their high quality and consistency. In their book Canada’s Food Island, the Farmers and Fishers of Prince Edward Island share some must-know cooking advice for the island’s famous edible exports – including, of course, mussels.

 4 things to know before you start:

  • Mussels must be alive before you cook them.
  • Mussels will naturally “gape” (open) when out of water. Run cold water over the mussel while tapping, agitating or lightly squeezing the open mussel between your fingers. If it does not close, it is dead and you must discard it. 
  • Look for mussels that are wet, shiny and with shells that are blackish blue. Farmed mussels come debearded, but check there are not a few still attached. To remove the beard (or any stray hair-like fibres), pull them off towards the hinge of the shell or gently scrape off with a knife. 
  • Mussels are cooked by steaming, not boiling. 
A person rinsing mussels in a sieve at an outdoor tap
Photography, Stephen Harris

How to make steamed mussels

Simply pour enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pot, add the mussels to the pot, cover and turn the heat up to high. When steam starts to pour out from under the lid, the mussels are done. The shells will be open when they are cooked. Once you’re past the 4-minute mark, keep a close eye on your mussels – each pound adds only an additional minute or less to the cooking time. This chart provides a rough guide and measurements.

How much liquid do you need to steam mussels

Amount of Mussels
Amount of Liquid
Approximate Cooking Time

1 lb

¼ cup

4–5 mins

2 lbs

½ cup

5–6 mins

5 lbs

½ cup

6–8 mins

10 lbs

1 cup

8–10 mins

A cookbook cover in a light frame.

Excerpted from Canada’s Food Island: A Collection of Stories and Recipes from Prince Edward Island by Farmers and Fishers of Prince Edward Island. Photography by Stephen Harris. Stories and captions by Stuart Hickox. Copyright © 2022 by Lobster Fishers of PEI. Excerpted with permission from Figure 1 Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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