Andrew Jones debunks a shellfish myth and offers up some tasty hacks
There’s an old but still well - known saying which is that you should only eat shellfish when there’s an ‘r’ in the month, that is between September and April, the cooler months of the year. But as my pal Thomas Long from Brancaster Bay Shellfish says, that advice is a bit fishy.
He supplies mussels to me at Farmyard and The Dial House and what he doesn’t know about bivalve molluscs isn’t worth knowing. He’s out there all weather and all seasons. Trust me – I’ve been with him wading high in icy cold waters. He doesn’t even wear gloves! Anyway, I digress... I love mussels. They’re so versatile all year round. Here are my hacks to shellfish success.
1Buy them from a good fish monger. They will know where their mussels are from, they’ll probably even know who caught them. As with all fish and shellfish they should look and smell like they’ve just come out of the sea. They should feel heavy for their size, that means they are plump, well fed and will taste delicious when cooked.
2Check the health mark. All shellfish must be sold with a tag that tells you where and when they were harvested. They should be purified for 42 hours after harvesting before being sold. If they are covered in barnacles and white marine worm casts it won’t affect the flavour but it will mean you’re paying for barnacles not mussels.
3Give them a wash and pick them over just before you cook them. Any that are asleep will shut when the water hits them; they will think the tide’s coming in. Any that don’t close up tightly or any with cracked shells should be thrown away
4Be brave with your flavourings. While the purists may just steam them open with white wine and parsley, mussels have a lot of personality and can take on big flavours. Try them cooked in ale or cider and they love smoky, fatty pork. As I write this, I’m dreaming of mussels cooked with kielbasa (a really smoky Polish sausage) beer and sauerkraut! Cook them on a high heat with the lid on until they open. It takes two to three minutes, no more.
5Once you’ve cooked your big bowl of delicious local mussels, if there are one or two that haven’t opened pick them out and throw them away.
I asked Thomas what his favourite way to cook mussels is and it’s right up my street. Enjoy! ½ thumb size piece ginger ½ thumb size piece galangal 1 bunch coriander
1 tin coconut milk Juice of a lime
Wash and pick over the mussels.
Cut the leaves off the coriander and reserve.
Blitz the shallot, chilli, lime leaf, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, galangal and coriander stalks to a paste.
Fry the paste in a little oil in a pan large enough to hold the mussels, for a minute, just long enough to cook out the rawness.
Add the mussels and coconut milk, cover with a lid and steam on a high heat for 2-3 minutes or until all the mussels have opened.
Finish with roughly chopped coriander and a squeeze of lime juice.
Serve with a cold beer.
ABOVE:Brancaster mussels, smoked bacon and cider cream at the Dial House