Foraging for Mussels

January 12, 2015 by becca.lazar No Comments

Mussels -RL

For the Cornish Holiday Cottages team, there’s no meal more Cornish in feel than a big bowl of mussels in a creamy white wine sauce…apart from a pasty, of course. A bowl of mussels with chips will cost you about £10 in the restaurants, but there’s no need to think of moules marinière as a dish that can only be ordered.

Foraging for these mouth-watering molluscs is both easy and a great way interact with the beach in a more personal manner. It turns the beach into a hunting ground, an adventure, a provider.  It gives your visit the same purpose it gave to our ancestors – to sustain and feed. Why wouldn’t you want to end the day feasting on a delicacy that you can say, with satisfaction, that you caught, prepared and cooked yourself? I know I would, anyway.

The Cornish coast is ideal for harvesting mussels; it’s rocky, it’s got deep beaches and warm waters. All you really need is a bucket and a low tide.

You see, the best mussels are picked at low tide. They are the ones that are only out of the water for half an hour or so. And to pick them all you need to do is pull or twist them off of the rock. Use your thumb as a size guideline. The smaller ones won’t have had the opportunity to breed yet and helping mussel colonies sustain themselves is a big part of the appeal of picking your own.

Make sure that the waters you are taking your mussels from are clean – we’ve all heard the stories of people eating dodgy mussels, but it’s easy to avoid this yourself. You don’t want there to be an open sewage pipe near your picking site. Also, when exposed to the air, the mussel shells should be closed and they’re the ones you should pick. Avoid any with damaged shells – a damaged shell means a damaged mussel. But after cooking don’t even think of eating any with closed shells.

There’s one small rule for mussel picking: only harvest mussels during months with an ‘R’ in. May to August time is breeding time, but for the rest of the year – go nuts.

Mussels 2 -RL

If you are going to be on the beach a while, keep your catch in a bucket of seawater. When transporting home you can either soak a towel in seawater or use seaweed to cover the mussels and keep them alive.

To avoid a side order of grit with your mussels it’s a good idea to soak them in clean salt water for a few hours. This gives the mussels time to purge any particles from themselves. When this is done, lift them out of the water instead of pouring the water back over them and reintroducing the sand.

Next, you have to remove the beards – the part that attaches the mussel to the rocks – by pulling and twisting them. Then scrub any barnacles off of them. Don’t worry if they don’t all come off, but try your best to get the shells as clean as possible. Don’t forget to tap each mussel as it comes out of the water and discard any that don’t close.

There are a number of recipes for cooking mussels, including a delicious Thai variety, but our favourite is this one by Rick Stein – he’s lived here long enough to know what he’s doing. We usually accompany ours with chips, crusty bread and a glass of white wine.

Moules marinière with cream

1.75kg/4lb mussels
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
15g/½oz butter
a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and bay leaves
100ml/3½fl oz dry white wine or cider
120ml/4fl oz double cream
handful of parsley leaves, coarsley chopped
crusty bread, to serve

Preparation method
Wash the mussels under plenty of cold, running water. Discard any open ones that won’t close when lightly squeezed.
Pull out the tough, fibrous beards protruding from between the tightly closed shells and then knock off any barnacles with a large knife. Give the mussels another quick rinse to remove any little pieces of shell.
Soften the garlic and shallots in the butter with the bouquet garni, in a large pan big enough to take all the mussels – it should only be half full.
Add the mussels and wine or cider, turn up the heat, then cover and steam them open in their own juices for 3-4 minutes. Give the pan a good shake every now and then.
Remove the bouquet garni, add the cream and chopped parsley and remove from the heat.
Spoon into four large warmed bowls and serve with lots of crusty bread.

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