Why would anybody want to forage for wild Mussels? Especially when one considers that ‘farmed’ Mussels are actually wild Mussels themselves, only they have been gathered when young and encouraged to grow on man-made structures – often ropes studded with plastic spikes – for easy harvesting when fat enough for eating. Moreover, these Mussel ‘farms’, when managed responsibly (which they usually are), serve as a natural boost to the local marine environment.
Mussels (and other bivalves) are nature’s means of organic filtration. Every day a single 5cm Mussel will suck through 50 litres of sea water, filtering microscopic nutrients through its flesh and essentially cleaning the water that passes through it. What’s more, Mussel farms naturally enhance local biodiversity: they attract seaweeds and anemones, which then act as ideal nurseries for several species of fish and crustaceans. Indeed, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) regard rope-grown Mussels as one of the most environmentally friendly forms of aquaculture. Their website, FishOnline: The In-depth Guide to Sustainable Seafood, gives the farms a rating of 1 out of 5 for sustainability – the highest possible. (The website also rates hand-gathered Mussels (i.e. foraged) as a 1, though there are other farming methods that don’t rate so highly.)
The other great thing about farmed Mussels is that you don’t have to worry about cleaning them, or indeed worry about the cleanliness of the water that they are taken from. Truly wild Mussels that you gather yourself have to be scrubbed and ‘de-bearded’ before consumption – a time-consuming exercise – otherwise they will be intolerably gritty when it comes to eating. (Keep watching this blog for how to scrub, de-beard and purge Mussels.) And, of course, you also have to be 100% sure that you don’t gather wild Mussels from a shoreline that harbours a sewage or other industrial outlet, for obvious reasons.
So why would anybody want to bother foraging for Mussels – worrying about the pollution-levels of the waters you take them from; scrubbing them until your fingers are sore; purging them at home for hours to remove most (though certainly not all) grit? Why indeed, would anybody want to take a small adventure down to the seashore, grubbing around and splashing about the rock pools like they were 8 years old again? Why would anybody want to rekindle an ancient and lost instinct for the hunt? Why would anyone want to acquire the wisdom of season and habitat of the vulnerable wildlife – edible or otherwise – of our precious coastline? Why would anybody want the fresh smells of the salty shores adorning their kitchens while their quarry purges quietly away, waiting to be cooked. Why, indeed, would anybody want the satisfaction of feasting on a seafood delicacy that they have acquired, scrubbed and grafted for themselves?
Well, I know that I would – but you tell me…
Identification – See my Edible Molluscs A-Z page for full pictures and description.
Warning – Avoid months without an ‘r’ – May-August.
Moules Marinere is the classic way to prepare Mussels, and hard to beat. Check out a fantastic recipe for them on the blog Chop, Stir, Grate. You can, of course, ring the changes: use cider instead of wine; coconut milk instead of cream. But please try my Thai-style Mussels with Noodles – just as easy, fragrant and fresh.