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Brush or scrape mussels (Americans brush, French scrape), pulling out the fragment of seaweed, or beard, that protrudes from the back. Discard any whose shells are cracked or broken and test each between your fingers to be certain of its live resistance to opening (occasionally a mud-filled shell, heavier than a live mussel, turns up). Soak in a generous quantity of salt water for 15 or 20 minutes so that they may disgorge much of the sand contained in them.

To open mussels, put them into a large saucepan or pot, throw in a handful of chopped onion, 3 or 4 crushed cloves of garlic, thyme, bay leaf, a handful of parsley (whole or chopped), and some white wine—a half cup, more or less. Cover tightly and place over a high flame, shaking and tossing the contents (while holding the lid tightly in place) from time to time over a period of from 3 to 4 minutes to 10 minutes or so, depending on the size of the container and the quantity of mussels. Remove from the heat as soon as most of them are opened (the remainder can be forced open with a knife—and are often the best). With a chunk of butter and a healthy grinding of pepper added before heating, this is the simplest version of moules marinières and the one that is served in small restaurants throughout France, the mussels piled high in soup plates and the liquid ladled over.