By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Mar 7 2017 09:00AM
The cool, clear waters of the UK provide the perfect growing environment for one of nature's tastiest aquatic treats - the mussel.
This beautiful, blue bivalve can be found growing on most parts of our rocky coastline and harvesting some yourself is one of the most rewarding foraging experiences you can have.
Traditionally, you should only collect mussels in months with the letter ‘r’ in. The rule of thumb (which applies to most shellfish) is actually a shorthand way of saying that it's best to avoid shellfish during the summer months and there is some good science behind the principle. All shellfish tend to accumulate certain toxins that are found in (perfectly natural) algal blooms which tend to be at their peak during the warm weather. If you buy your shellfish from the shops there's no need to worry since all stocks are regularly checked for toxins but it does mean that March, before the warm weather arrives, is a good time to go on the hunt.
Pick the larger mussels – not only will they make for a better meal but they will have had chance to breed, keeping the population healthy. The plumpest specimens will be found below the high water mark on rocky beaches so check a tide table before you visit then get down there with your wellies and a good sized bucket. On the journey home, keep your catch cool with a damp tea towel.
When it comes to cooking, mussels need just a few minutes to steam open so they're the perfect convenience food and a rich reward for all your hard work.
If you look out the window and think it's too cold for a trip to the beach (and let's face it, March often is) then get down to the shops. Either wild or rope grown mussels are fine (three quarters of rope-grown mussels in the UK are now classified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.) They are excellent value and you'll find them in any good fishmonger during the season.