By Gian Franco 2021-10-24

Simple Creative Ways to Cook Tahong (Mussels)


For majority of Filipinos, oysters are virtually a thing of Hollywood movies and Western TV series. Although the archipelagic country is speckled with sites for oyster farming, the shelled critters are notorious for their expensive rates in cities and tourist destinations. The next best thing to oysters that Filipinos regularly enjoy is the less expensive regular-shaped cousins called mussels.


Filipinos love their Asian green mussels (or tahong, as we call it in our vernacular) because it stimulates the appetite with its sweet and salty flavor of the ocean. The meat tastes slightly like a mushroom and offers just the right balance between tender and chewy when cooked right. Overall, mussels don’t taste fishy at all. Mussels are a regular seafood staple in the Philippines because it can blend well with other ingredients while keeping its distinct flavor intact. Despite the unappealing look of its shell, one can say that mussels are the “chicken of the seafood.” The fleshy edible meat inside offers one of the best flavors among the shelled delicacies. Mussels are one of the most healthy and nutritious seafood for weight loss, as they are loaded in protein and low in carbohydrates, sodium, and fats.


Difference between oyster and mussels


Although oysters and mussels are both members of the invertebrate phylum Mollusca, the two shellfish have major differences in characteristics that set them apart (which spells the gap in availability and price range).


You’ve seen oysters – they are bivalves that have two shells connected by a hinge. Mussels are bivalves too. However, unlike mussels, oysters have irregular and rough-textured shells that are light tan, brown, or white in varying degrees. Meanwhile, mussels are not getting the same popularity because of its “unappealing” exterior. Their shells tend to be darker blue, green, or black in color. All mussels form their shells to be oblong and regular in shape with iridescent sheen to them. These characteristics give the impression that mussels are unappetizing or worse, toxic.


Don’t fall for this, though. According to Ocean Conservancy, mussels comprise the top three species of bivalve mollusks that are commercially-harvested in the United States -- amounting to an economic value of $1 billion annually. About 75 per cent of the demand comes from European markets, particularly Spain, France, and Italy – countries that capture the world’s attention with their fine food cultures. These statistics alone prove that mussels are worth a try.


How to Prepare Mussels


Preparing mussels for cooking is just as quick and easy as soaking them in water for 15 minutes to as long as overnight. Just make sure you have the freshest mussels. The simplest way to choose fresh mussels is to pick shells that are tightly closed and presents no chips nor cracks. Slightly opened shells should shut when tapped with a finger. If the mussels don’t close, it only means they’re already dead and not the best for cooking.


Fresh mussels should dispel sand and grit by breathing and filtering the water you have prepared. After a while, rinse the shells thoroughly and scrub off the barnacles or coral that attached to the exterior. Then, using a knife, gently scrape away the “beard” or clump of hair-like fibers along the hinge. Do this only before cooking the mussels right away.


How to Cook Tahong


There are a few techniques that Filipinos use to enhance the flavor of mussels: 




The traditional way to cook Filipino dishes with mussels is by steaming the seashells. It’s usually done by adding just a bit of water and bringing it to boil. Mussels are added to simmer and render juices until all the shells open. Add sweet potato tops to add crunch that complements the slightly chewy meat of the mussels. (Photo from Yummy PH – Steamed Mussels Recipe)