Singing Cockles and Mussels, Alive, Alive O!

Cooked mussels Louise

By Louise Oliver

When thinking of fast food rarely does one conjure up the image of healthy and nutritious. It seems that it’s not a ying and yang thing, it tends to follow that your dinner is either one or the other. That is, however, certainly not the case when it comes to mussels. These locally sourced gems really tick all the boxes when it comes to fast, fresh food.

Mussels are the most nutritious of shellfish. Their flesh contains high levels of the much sought after long chain fatty acids EPA and DHA. Research suggests that these bolster brain function and reduce inflammatory conditions including arthritis. Mussels are also abound with vitamins B and C and minerals such as Zinc- another boost to the immune system, and potassium. This mollusc’s levels of iron and folic acid would easily take on any red meat in a food fight.

Check over your mussels for any bruised or broken blue-black shells and knock off any barnacles en route. If you encounter any heifers as you go, best to bin them as they tend to be full of sand, not known to enhance their taste. It’s best to be suspicious of mussels that remain slightly ajar. Check with a sharp tap on the sink, if their response is still sluggish to close, again: to the bin with them. Whilst beards may well be very much the in-thing in the land of music, no Mumford Mussels to follow any trends here, a short, sharp tug will see them smooth. Oh and sometimes there is a need to state the obvious, so here goes- those mussels that remain shy during cooking have dealt themselves off your plate- discard!

Whilst the preparation may sound slightly hairy and indeed laborious, it really isn’t. It actually takes less time to cook mussels than it does to eat them. Fast food at its finest. The only point to remember is not to overcook mussels. They simply require 2-4 minutes of steaming, which should be enough to awaken them. When three quarters of them are open, take the rest of the heat and give them one more stir and serve.

After eating your first mussel, a handy hint is to use this shell to remove the meaty flesh from the remaining beauties, table manners that the kids will love!

Unlike most seafood there really is no need to check your MSC app for an update on mussel’s sustainability. Research actually suggests that farmed mussels aid our marine environment, creating a useful habitat for all kinds of marine invertebrates and even juvenile fish. They require no input, aside from a rope- no feed, no chemicals and no fertilisers. Most of the mussels on our plates originated on ropes, hung from floating rafts in the water. They feed on plankton resulting in their fleshy centres.

A large chitterin bag costs only £3.39-£3.79 a kilo, as a kilo will easily feed four, mussels are truly a cheap eat-really it’s a no brainer. Due to their high turnover in fishmongers you are guaranteed freshness, there really is no need to buy from the supermarket. A truly ethical and economical supper.

Add a twist to the French classic of Moules Marinieres with the more Scottish addition of chips and use a local beer or cider as an alternative to wine. Next, try the Scottish dish Chowder with Oatcakes, a deliciously comforting complete meal that will truly make you sing for your supper. Another Scottish regional classic is Mussels Brose, or a mussel broth which contains oatmeal as a thickener. Again cream and wine complement the meaty mussels.

So whilst simplicity really is the key to a delicious plate of mussels that does not mean that there are not options when it comes to adding flavours. Mussels can handle strong flavours, particularly spices such as chilli. Ring the changes with Mussels, and experiment with Eastern flavours in this Thai Mussels dish, the molluscs certainly can handle the heat, though the coconut milk tempers the fire.

So get a singing for your supper, whilst de-bearding and tuck into a bucket truly worth lickin’ your fingers for…Alive Alive O!