Down on the shore there are shells in all shades of incandescent under foot, side step the undulations of rocks at low tide and part the kelp curtains to find a free lunch sewn tightly to the slabs. Plucked and pulled, washed and trimmed, then ready to cook on the beach in uncomplicated decadence.
There are rules of course- an old wisdom of ‘don’t collect in months without an R’. Forage only from beaches with ‘Good’ and ‘Excellent’ water quality (the warmer the water mid-season, the more likely bacteria will flourish). Favour the big fat plump ones, who are likely to have already had their breeding season. Take sparingly, always.
Twist and tug from the rocks, to plunge straight into a bucketful of debris-free sea water. Place in cool, clean salt water for a few hours, this allows the mussels to filter out any sand. Once purged of grit, it’s time to give them a good scrub. Rinse under clean, cold water, and scour with a brush.
Mussels sew themselves to the rocks with thin, stringy membranes known as beards. The easiest way to de-beard them is pliers; find the string, and use a pair of pliers to pull them off- use just fingers and you may find yourself in a tug of war with the mussel.
Find a quiet patch of shore, and collect some wood to best enjoy the heart-aching wide saltiness of a sea-side picnic. Driftwood smoke curling up in saline air, cool sea-breeze with just a hint of heat from the fire- for all it’s simpleness, a campfire can conjure a happiness of luxurious proportions. Allow the fire to burn into hot coals and embers, then you’re ready to cook.
- 1.5 kg mussles
- 1 garlic clove,finely sliced
- 10g butter
- 100ml of white wine
- 110ml of double cream
In to the pan goes a knob of butter and garlic. After a minute add your mussels and white wine. Place the lid on, and steam through for 4-5 minutes; they’re ready when they welcomely wink at you with fully open shells.
To serve, stir in the cream and serve with a loaf of fresh bread; the simplest, loveliest beach picnic.
- Tip- to stop the cream curdling, don’t add cold milk directly into the hot liquid. Instead, whisk small amounts of the hot juices from the pan into the cold cream. When the cream is warmer, then you add it into the mussels.
- (N.B- make sure to ask the landowner’s permission for your fire, if you’re in England).