Through the months of September to March, the British coastlines’ offerings are particularly abundant, full of hardy shellfish built to cope in stormy waters. Hard-shelled mussels, oysters, scallops and cockles are just a few pearls of the ocean at their height through the turbulent winter months.
A reliable coastal food source for over 20,000 of years, these bivalve molluscs are commonly found in clumps attached to wave-washed rock feeding on plankton. Varieties most readily available in Britain include blue or European mussels which can be purchased particularly cheaply and sourced through responsible fishing methods.
Seasonal period: September to March
Flavour friends: Mussels’ rich, briny meatiness means the fresh Asian flavours of chilli, lime and coriander complement each other beautifully. This briny tendency however, makes mussels the perfect partner to saltier meats such as bacon and particularly chorizo. Alternatively, the sweetness of mussels is great for offsetting the earthy, richness of cooked mushrooms as well as apple – cider makes for the perfect cooking liquor.
Buying, storing and preparing: To enjoy this beautiful mollusc in all their glory, it is important to seek bright and clean shells, avoiding those suffering from chipped and cracked exteriors. Their scent should not be pungently fishy, but rather resemble the fresh smells of the seaside; slightly sweet but distinct salty aroma.
When preparing your mussels:
1. Discard badly damaged mussels or ones that fail to close after a sharp tap
2. Clean the shells under cold water and remove the beards by pulling them towards the hinge of the mussel
3. Rinse thoroughly in cold water 3 or 4 times, replacing with fresh water after each rinse, removing all the unwanted grit
4. Whilst rinsing, discard any mussels that float to the top
Mussels are best consumed on the day of purchase although they can be frozen. Bag the mussels into portions once they have been prepared for cooking and put in the freezer. Cook from frozen adding 3 – 4 minutes onto the cooking time.
Cooking: Allow approximately 500g mussels per portion (main) and cook quickly and gently in a flavoursome cooking liquor. Place them in a lidded saucepan over a medium heat with a little liquid and allow to steam.
Cook until shells begin to open: 4 -5 minutes
Words by Helen Upshall