One of my favorite things to do is cook and eat food that I have had some hand in finding/catching/growing/hunting. However, I have the following things working against me:
1) I didn’t grow up shooting guns and have only done so in the past year. At brightly colored pieces of clay. Poorly.
2) I think if I ever shot and killed an animal I would likely cry about it for a few days.
3) I suck at fly fishing and somehow can’t even catch a fish with a spinner reel and a worm.
4) I over-water or under-water vegetable plants until they die. There is no in between for me.
The one thing that I have figured out I have a talent for, meaning its extremely easy, is catching/gathering shellfish with the intention of eating them. They are basically rocks with a sweet delicious inside: right up my alley. The first installment of Foraging for Food focuses on the shellfish that surprised me most with its quality: mussels.
Here’s all that’s needed: running water, possibly a scrub brush, some salt, a steamer pot, and something to soak the mussels in. Oh, and a bay that smells a little funky, preferably in picturesque Maine.
According to the drunks at Pollys in Beach Haven, NJ, the best time for going after any mollusk is a couple hours before, or right at, low tide. Make sure you leave your douchey footwear on shore.
Mussels basically grow on anything stationary in tidal areas. I didn’t just make that up based on my experience. As far as you know. If you dig in the mud around rocks you can pull off clusters of mussels.
In about 5 minutes I was able to find 3-4 pounds of mussels and put them in my handy Hannaford’s shopping bag.
The biggest difference between mussels you find and what you will get in a restaurant is that they are a lot uglier. They are covered in mud, nicked up, have barnacles growing on them, and will be attached to empty shells and sticks. They need to be rinsed and scrubbed thoroughly in fresh water and have all attached debris cleaned off. The barnacles are fine; they fall off in cooking and are actually edible if you are feeling adventurous.
Once they are clean they should be placed in a container of salted freshwater for at least an hour to get some of the remaining sediment filtered out. If you have time, change the water halfway through and soak them longer.
Once they have soaked, they are ready to be steamed in the same manner that you would steam any other shellfish.
I personally like to overcook them a bit since its very hard to make mussels chewy and its better to be safe than sorry with something you pulled out of foul smelling mud a few hours earlier. Also, given that history, its amazing how clean and fresh the mussels taste.
As far as the barnacles go, they pop right off after cooking and if you find a large one that fell off, you can scoop out the meat from the back. Very sweet meat, with an interesting texture.
And thats about it, easily the cleanest and freshest tasting mussels I have ever had and so good with simple drawn butter. These mussels wouldn’t hold up as well if cooked in wine and served in a broth due to all the extras on the shell, but on their own they were definitely impressive. As is Maine, what a place.
Next week, New Jersey littleneck clams. Definitely with an extra-large helping of sleeveless shirts and general DBishness.