Take Another Look at the Miraculous Mussel
“With enough butter, anything is good.” – Julia Child
In her iconic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child states, “Mussels, with their long, oval, blue-black shells and delicious pink-orange flesh are often called the poor man’s oyster.” But scooping the meat out of the shell and soaking up the warm, buttery sauce with toasted bread is a culinary treat as luxurious as any. Yet, mussels are one of the most budget-friendly seafood options, are incredibly sustainable to farm, and require minimal time and skill to prepare and cook. So, just what is it that makes them so miraculous?
FLEXING THAT SUSTAINABILITY MUSSEL
In South Africa, small- and large-scale mussel farming are focused on two species – the indigenous black mussel (which we used in this recipe), and the exotic Mediterranean mussel, which have blue shells. They are farmed on man-made ropes of up to six metres and can have around 800 mussels on it at a single time. Together, the mussels and the rope act as wave energy dissipation – a fancy term for the act of sheltering sea life from strong waves, which also prevents coastal erosion. These dropper ropes also provide refuge for other sea life and act as biodiversity havens.
Both blue and black mussels are on The Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative’s (SASSI) green list, meaning they are an environmentally sustainable choice to feast on. According to scientists, mussel farming has a low impact on the environment, because there is no need to use antibiotics or chemicals to extract them, so the process emits little to no greenhouse gasses. Mussels are also incredibly efficient water filters and farming them requires no additional fresh water. A single mussel can filter up to 25 liters of sea water a day – an impressive feat which improves water quality along coastal areas. So, we have good reason to regard them as the little treasures of the shellfish world. The next time you want to say, “the world is your oyster,” perhaps make the world a mussel instead.
MUSSEL UP YOUR KITCHEN
In terms of the nutritional benefits of mussels, they’re often coined the “ocean’s superfood”, as they are a clean source of protein; containing zinc, omega 3 fatty acids and iron, and are also very low in saturated fat – just to name a few perks.
White wine is often an important ingredient in mussel recipes. But, there are many other ways to inject them with flavour – from adding chorizo or clam juice to the saucepan, or dressing them in tangy ingredients like ponzu or miso. The options are endless and each one is as tasty as the next. As our Group Executive Chef Antro Davel said, “Mussels are like mushrooms and absorb other flavours very well.”
Whether you decide to buy fresh or pre-packaged mussels, it’s up to you – we don’t judge. Grab a bottle of wine, some herbs – and lots of butter – and soon, you won’t be able to tell if you’re in France or in your own backyard. Shuffle that Edith Piaf playlist, drape a pressed linen napkin across your lap, and you would have travelled the world in 20 minutes. Even less if you decide to eat them straight out of the pot – whatever floats your boat.
Feel free to innovate this recipe and make it your own, we’re sure Julia wouldn’t mind. The world is your mussel, after all.