A thalassic design classic: turmeric-coloured morsels stunningly presented in raven shells. But they don't just look good. There's the wonderful percussive rhythm of mussels being gently shaken in the pan and poured into a large bowl. With head over the bowl you breathe in the tantalizing sea-fresh steam. Savour it. And then get to the task at hand; extracting succulent offerings from gaping shells and soaking up the fragrant broth with pieces of crusty-soft bread. THE complete sensory food experience.
Archaeological findings suggest that mussels have been used as a food for over 20,000 years. They have been cultivated in Europe since 1235 when Patrick Walton, an Irish sailor shipwrecked on the French coast, hung up nets in order to catch fish and found that mussels were sticking themselves to the poles supporting the nets.
Mussels are bivalves (molluscs with two hinged shells). They filter iron from seawater to produce the adhesive plaque they use to attach themselves to rocks and other objects. The type of mussels prevalent in UK waters have spread throughout the northern hemisphere by hitching lifts on the hulls of boats.
Look for bright, clean, tightly closed unbroken shells. Fresh mussels smell briny-fresh, not ‘fishy’.
Best eaten within a day of buying.
Discard any open mussels that don’t close with a sharp tap. Pull out the beards and scrub the shells under cold running water using a stiff brush. Swish around in three water changes to expel any grit.
Nacre (mother-of-pearl) extracted from mussel shells was widely used to make buttons, before plastics, and is still used in jewellery making today.