The UK’s native mussel is now cultivated on ropes suspended in the water and don’t touch the seabed, ensuring they don’t pick up grit and barnacles. Their bluish-black shells are also thinner than wild mussels and the meat content higher since these mussels are not exposed at low tides and so can feed constantly. The myth about only eating mussels ‘when there is an ‘R’ in the month’ is incorrect – although mussels spawn in spring and are not at their best at this time since the meat content is lower, there is no risk to eating at this time. Rope grown mussels are available year round although not at their best in the summer months. Dredged mussels can be much cheaper, but need more cleaning to remove the sand and grit. Dredging is carried out from August through to May.
Mussels make a fine starter, lunch or main course. To serve, ensure they are clean and free of barnacles; remove any ‘beard’ (also known as ‘byssus thread’ this is how the mussel was attached to the rope or rock it grew on), and simply steam in the serving sauce or over a bed of seaweed. Discard any mussels which do not open. Classic recipes such as moules marinières and moules provençale are rightly popular - and paella wouldn’t be the same without them!
Frozen mussels are of good quality and include the New Zealand greenlip mussels (Perna canaliculus) which has a different taste, sweeter taste and is a little more chewy. Greenlip mussels are usually much bigger, making them great for topping and grilling.