The most abundant and cheapest of shellfish; mussels not only provide sweet, tender flesh, but a delicious liquor too after steaming. This is at its most tasty when mopped up with a chunk of crusty bread.
Mussels can be picked anywhere around the coast, but there is an element of risk attached to this. They are far safer from beaches facing open sea than from estuaries or harbours where pollution may be concentrated. A better option are rope grown mussels from a trusted supplier; these mussels are grown on suspended ropes which ensures that they don’t touch the seabed and pick up grit or barnacles.
After harvesting they go through a purification process whereby they are set in trays for 36 hours, during which time aerated water is pumped through the system. This water is also sterilised through a quartz sleeve using ultraviolet light shining through it.
When buying mussels don’t accept any from a batch that are gaping open, this suggests that they have been out of the sea too long and aren’t as fresh as they should be.
Mussels make a lovely first course at dinner or who doesn’t love a bowl of the traditional French moules frites – the perfect light lunch with thinly cut chips and crusty bread.
1.4kg rope-grown mussels
2 shallots, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, puréed
2 tbls olive oil
2 tbls chopped parsley
250mls dry white wine
180g cold butter, diced
Milled white pepper
Pick through the mussels, ensuring they are all tightly closed and removing any beards (the ropey threads around the mussel). Heat a large saucepan, add the olive oil, shallots and garlic. Quickly add the mussels and wine. Cover with a tight fitting lid and steam for 4 minutes, shaking occasionally. Heat a second pan and pour in the cooking juices from the mussels and allow to reduce slightly to concentrate the flavours. Quickly whisk in the butter before finishing with the fresh parsley, a little sea salt and a generous grind of pepper. Pour the sauce back over the mussels and serve with lots of crusty bread.
Terry’s latest food venture, Saltwater at Fenwick Food Hall, has a wet fish counter and staff who can advise on all aspects of cooking fish.