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FOOD Marvellous Mayo mussels



Marvellous Mayo mussels 

Redmond Cabot

In the past, mussels were often referred to as the poor man’s shellfish – but then again, so were oysters, and look where they are now! Shellfish generally are a fabulous source of minerals and protein for de auld brain and body. Well worth including in your repertoire.
In my last article, I asked mussel suppliers to contact me, as I wanted to feature some of these dishes that can be created using this simple and affordable shellfish. Pádraic Gannon, Kilmeena, of Croagh Patrick Seafoods got in touch, and I went to visit him where he harvests mussels.
Standing there on the shoreline, with a bright breeze blowing across the bay, and the Reek in the background, it was inspiring to see the very natural habitat that the mussels grow in. We chatted about the life-cycle of mussels, and it was amazing to learn more and more about the intricacies of such an abundant source of goodness. Here is my potted guide to mussels.

Preparation and cooking
If the mussels have a ‘beard’ – the line that the mussel use to anchor to rocks – it will need pulling off. Some suppliers run the mussels through a ‘de-bearding’ machine that removes the beard for you. And then again, some people just cook the beard and all and then remove at eating stage. I have spent many, many hours at the sink de-bearding and scraping away barnacles with the back of a knife.
Whatever you decide to do about the beard, it is absolutely imperative you give the mussels a good strong rinse in your sink. Grit and grains will be washed away, and your mussels will be perfectly clean to cook. In days gone by in Mayo, there was a preference for boiling mussels. No more need for that. Mussels can now be guaranteed fresh anywhere in Ireland and to boil them in water would dilute their special flavours too much. Nowadays, we place mussels straight in a hot pot with no other water, and the shells release their own liquid.
The perfect mussel
Memories of small, withered, squished-up, black mussels in their shell appear out of my consciousness from the 1980s. These were way overcooked and have lost the majority of their goodness at this stage. For perfect mussels, cook them for a further two minutes after their shell has opened, stirring. Then you are left with the full bodyweight and a delicious paler, orange/brown colour that indicates a mussel in peak condition.

Flavour combinations
The simple answer to a complex question is that really the mussels are packed full of delicious flavours already! All those lovely mineral and protein elements, surrounded in fresh Atlantic seawater. A common mistake is to swamp mussels in flavours that are too strong (something I and the Brunette can be guilty of with chilli). Witness many examples of this with cream in restaurants. Why not just emphasise the inherent natural, beautiful flavours? A lot of good flavour comes when the shells open themselves, providing adequate moisture and soakage, or stock for further cooking. Classic combinations with mussels include white wine, tomato and pepper and light cream.

Easiest mussels in the world
Yes, that’s right. The easiest mussels in the world.

What you need

  • 1 kg mussels
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 4 spring onions, chopped
  • Olive oil

What you do
De-beard your mussels if you like and give them a good wash. Heat some oil in a heavy-bottomed wide pan over a high heat. Simply tip in your mussels and cover with a lid. After one minute, add your onion and spring onion. Shake pan every minute and stir well after two minutes. Remove from heat when the shells have been open for two minutes. Serve in a bowl, with bread and butter.

Steamed mussels in cider
This is an interesting variation, is easy to make and delicious.

What you need

  • 1 kg mussels
  • 1 can cider
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Parsley for garnish

What you do
Heat the oil in a big, deep pan and add onion, garlic and bay leaf to slow cook for six minutes. Pour in the can of cider and turn up heat. When the cider is starting to boil, empty in your mussels. Cover with a lid and let cider come to the boil again. Stir well as it boils, and after the mussels have opened, keep them cooking for another two minutes. Take off the heat and serve in bowls with parsley garnish.
If you have some French stick, bread rolls or even old bread, place it on a tray in the oven for five minutes, and serve this crispy bread as an accompaniment.

Pádraic Gannon can be contacted for door-to-door mussel service at 087 2497570. Kate O’Conner Kennedy, Killary Fjord Shellfish, can also be contacted for mussels at 087 6407713.

Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.