Mussels can be smoked, boiled, steamed, roasted, barbecued or fried in butter or oil. As with all shellfish, except prawns, mussels should be checked to ensure they are still alive just before they are cooked; enzymes quickly break down the meat and make them unpalatable or poisonous after dying. A simple guide is that live mussels, when in the air, will shut tightly when disturbed. Simply tap them on a hard surface and they should close. If not, bin them straight away!
“Open, unresponsive mussels are dead, and must be discarded. Unusually heavy, wild caught, closed mussels should also be discarded as they may contain only mud or sand.”
A thorough rinse in water and removal of “the beard” is necessary and easy to do. Most good fishmongers will check and prepare them for you, but do make sure you check them all yourself before cooking. Mussel shells usually open when cooked, revealing the sweet, cooked soft flesh.
You are unlikely to find mussels any fresher than they are on the North Norfolk coastline, and in particular, Morston mussels are available picked, cleaned and distributed within a few hours. Grown a stone’s throw away from Morston in Blakeney Harbour, Mark Randell is one of just three mussel growers licensed to operate in the harbour. Unlike some producers, Mark allows his mussels to grow for two years to ensure a better product. Seafood doesn’t come much fresher than this!
“The addition of lavender jelly into this recipe really heightens the overall sweetness of fresh Morston mussels. It also cuts through the beer component, making for a truly amazing sauce. Apparently a firm favourite of Queen Elizabeth 1st, Lavender Jelly or Conserve would probably prove to be a bit of a table top talking piece these days. However just because you may not always see it nestling in next to the mint sauce and redcurrant jelly, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a surprisingly delightful little condiment.”
Brancaster Brewery takes its name from Brancaster Staithe, a north Norfolk village steeped in brewing history. Located in the heart of prime barley growing terroir, records show brewing here dates back to Roman times. So great was the demand for barley from this area that reputedly the country’s largest malthouse was built in Brancaster in 1797. Ironically the malthouse was built using bricks salvaged from the nearby Roman fort.
“Brancaster Best is a refreshing pale ale with citrus notes on the finish and at a reasonable 3.8% it is ideal to complement the sweet taste of the mussels and does not overpower the delicate flavours from the vegetables and herbs.”
This recipe will serve two as a main course or four as an appetiser.
2 lbs of fresh Morston mussels
1 tablespoon of extra virgin rapeseed oil
About a dessert spoon of salted butter
1 heaped teaspoon of Norfolk Lavender Jelly
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
1 bottle of Brancaster Best
1 large fresh red chilli, very finely chopped (leave the seeds in)
A handful of chopped fresh parsley
The juice of 1/2 a small lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
Wash the mussels in cold water and remove their beards.
Throw out any mussels that are broken or open and don’t close when you tap them.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium heat and then sauté the onions, garlic and chopped chilli for around 8 minutes until the onions turn translucent minutes. You need to stir continuously so the onions and garlic do not burn.
Add the Brancaster Best, thyme, Norfolk Lavender Honey and parsley to the pan and turn the heat up to medium-high.
Cook for a minute or so. Once it starts steaming add the mussels to the pot.
Cover the pot tightly with the lid and let it steam for 3 minutes minutes.
After 3 minutes give the pan a good shake and cook for a further 2 minutes.
The mussels are cooked once they are open.
Remove the mussels from the pan and into serving dishes. Discard any mussels that did not open.
Put the pan back on to the stove top and add the butter and lemon into the sauce.
Add a large pinch of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
Pour the sauce over the mussels and serve with crusty bread to mop up all of that wonderful broth.