Before cooking, use a stiff brush to scrub mussels under cold, running water. Pull out the dark threads (beard) that protrude from the shell. Mussels die when debeard-ed, the term given for removal of these threads, so do not remove the dark threads until just before cooking. Get rid of sand by soaking mussels in cold, salted water (use 1/3 cup salt per gallon of water) for 1 hour. Like all shellfish, mussels should be cooked gently to prevent toughening. Mussels cooked in their shells are done when their shells pop open. Discard any with unopened shells.
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