A pearl of wisdom
Mussels cooked with curry and mead:
It’s fair to say that Cumbria and in particular Morecambe Bay to the south of the county is known for its cockles and shrimps, which have traditionally been fished and served in local villages and towns round and about, but you are in reality much more likely to find mussels along the shoreline than any other shellfish.
In many other parts of the world mussels are way more popular than any other shellfish, so it’s a bit of a mystery to me as to why it seems that they’ve mostly been overlooked in this area by the local population, especially when they are so delicious and simple to cook.
In fact, when you look into the history of mussels in Cumbria, you’re much more likely to find information about the rare and valuable freshwater pearl mussels once found in many of our rivers. Their downfall came about when a visiting tourist let the cat out of the bag after find some and it quickly became common knowledge that they were there. This led to the little known but quite fascinating 1930’s Cumbrian pearl rush.
Unfortunately, though due to the long-life cycle of freshwater mussels this ended up decimating the until-then unknown mussel beds. To add to this, unfortunately, in more recent times the continual and very serious pollution problems faced by our rivers have held back any substantial recovery of stocks. The only viable beds left in England are located in Cumbria and it’s great to hear that a funding package has just been announced, so that Natural England and their partners can help improve the chances of survival for some of the colonies that do exist in the county, by helping to oversee their management and hopefully increase the population. Freshwater pearl mussels can filter up to 50 litres of water a day. Through their filtration, they can improve water quality for other species such as fish, eels, otters and more. So, if by any chance your ever lucky enough to come across one in a remote Cumbrian stream, leave it alone and tell no one!
The mussels that I’m focusing on are the incredibly common ones known as blue shells, these are ones that I would go as far as to say are a modern-day superfood! It’s believed by many, me included, that mussels are the ultimate sustainable farmed product.
It’s been proven that their cultivation has a net benefit for the marine environment in which they are produced. Farmed mussels do not require external feed or nutrients. As filter feeders, they filter some 20 litres of water a day which increases water quality at the farm site through the removal of excess nutrients and phytoplankton in the water, improving the environment around them for other marine creatures. There’s also minimal impact to the surrounding habitats either, as the farm sites are small, no fertilisers or chemicals such as antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, or fertilisers are used in the populations, which means they have little or no impact on other species locally, especially as native varieties are grown specifically for that reason. So, go on give them a go if you’ve never had them before, try them, or if you’ve been put off previously by the way they look or by their texture try this recipe and give them another chance, they’re nutritious, full of vitamins and minerals and good for you and for the planet.
The recipe that follows is one inspired by one of the Stamp House classics and uses curry and mead. The mead part of the recipe comes from the time I took my wife Gemma to the mead producers in Lindisfarne for our wedding anniversary, which I soon learned wasn’t her idea of a romantic day out, but at least the sauce was a success. When buying mussels its always worth buying rope grown ones as these are clean and grit free, whereas dredged ones aren’t and totally contradict the whole point about them being sustainable!
Mussels cooked with curry and mead.
25g Mild curry powder
250ml Double cream
10g Chives or coriander
To prepare the mussels, scrub them with a small brush under running water so they’re clean. Remove the beards and ensure that they are closed or close when tapped. Discard any which do not meet this criteria.
Dice up the shallot.
In a large pan that has a suitable lid, melt the butter on a medium heat add the shallot and sweat gently until soft.
Add the curry powder to the shallot and cook for 20 seconds or until you get that toasted spice smell.
Turn up the heat and add the mussels along with the mead, put the lid on.
Cook for 1 minute and give the pan a shake ensuring you hold the lid firmly in place, cook for a further minute or until the mead boils and the mussels open.
Add the cream to the pan and bring back to the boil.
Remove from the heat, add the chopped herbs and serve immediately with some decent sourdough bread.