Free mussels!

A slight diversion for this week’s post: not vegetable or fruit-related, but a recipe for something I harvested and ate on holiday.

You can probably tell from the above pic where this one’s going. Still, let me fill you in on the detail. During a couple of weeks spent loafing around on the beaches of Southern Brittany I missed my little allotment (the novelty of quality time with the family Drooling was wearing off by this stage).

I began to look around for things to pick and eat. A field full of corn next to the campsite looked appealing, but also sadly illegal. However, happenstance, as so often, intevened.

“Daddy, what are these things on the rocks?”

“Go away. Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“But Daddy, they look very silly, what are they?”

“Look, this beer isn’t going to drink itself. I am on holiday you know.”

Pause. Slight sound as pair of six-year-old shoulders sag imperceptibly.

“Mummy, what are these things on the rocks?”

“Why honey, they are mussels.”

Pause. Slight sound as beer bottle falls into the soft white sand.

“Mussels, eh? Kids, grad a bucket. You’re coming with me.”

And so began the culinary adventure. The boys and I set off into the sea with buckets to look for mussels. The rocks were covered in them, albeit there were some pretty tiddly specimens hanging around.

After about 30 minutes we managed to prise 3 bucketfuls of decent-sized mussels off the rocks and bring them back to shore. At this stage they were covered in barnacles. Following a lengthy discussion with fellow holidaymakers it was decided that barnacles might adversely affect the flavour: they had to come off.

This wasn’t quite such a tedious task as might be thought. Although the boys did look a little bored after a few hours. Using whelk shells we sat happily in the sand, scraping off the barnacles and plopping the now-shiny purpley-black mussels into buckets of fresh sea water.

At the same time I tugged off the beards – the hairy tufts that stick out of the mussel’s shell – by pulling them towards the hinge of the shell.

The mussels were now clean. I popped them back in the water and took them back to the caravan.

Now at this stage I msut confess a little trepidation. I’d never caught or prepared mussels before, and shellfish in general generate a fair few scare stories, not to mention alimentary disasters. My head was telling me that these mussels were fine, freshly harvested from clean sea water, what could go wrong? But still…

Anyway, on to the recipe. A simple Moules Mariniere: cook a chopped onion and some garlic in a big saucepan. Add a glass of white wine and a glass of cream. Stir and then tip in all the mussels that have closed shells (very important, that bit – if the shells are open, the mussels are dead. Not good.).

Put the lid on. The heat and steam will make the mussels open up, whereupon the wine and cream will cook them deliciously. Give it 5-10 minutes. Toss in a load of freshly chopped parsley.

At this stage it will look amazing. All that is needed is a little Dutch courage and a large baguette, and you’re off! (oh, and only eat the ones that have opened!)

Needless to say, the mussels didn’t kill me. They tasted delicious and no after-effects whatsoever. Add to that the smug warm glow of catching (well, catching is maybe a rather grand word for something that sits motionless on a rock) them ourselves, and you have a very nice meal indeed.

I should probably add some disclaimer that you might want to read a more professional guide on how to eat mussels before attempting to do the same thing yourself. But hey, still alive…

On the radio while cooking: Je Ne Regrette Rien / Edith Piaf. Hear, hear!