Easy to pick and harvest, mussels abound on many of the world's rocky coastlines. For this cruising family, collecting dinner takes less time than preparing it. People & Food from our July 2012 issue.
One of the most gratifying aspects of cruising is the independence that the lifestyle offers. Two of the most rewarding activities I pursue when the opportunity arises are fishing or skin diving in search of a meal. This may be because these efforts satisfy the hunter-gatherer instinct in me. Or perhaps I enjoy them because it allows my wife, Katie, me, and our young daughter, Hoku, to stretch our cruising kitty on Makana, our Admiral 38 catamaran. I wish I could boast that I always return from a diving expedition with dinner or that we always catch a fish while sailing. Then again, perhaps that’s why they call the pastime “fishing” and not “catching”! That said, if we’re cruising in an area with cooler water and a rocky coast, I can almost guarantee that I’ll catch dinner—or at least a tasty and fulfilling appetizer.
One of the tastiest treats that the ocean provides also happens to be one of the easiest to collect. While mussels are limited geographically to cooler waters, we’ve found them in both hemispheres: large green-lipped mollusks unique to New Zealand, night-sky black mussels from South Africa, and the blue-tinged variety found in our home waters of New England. All provide the main ingredient for a tantalizing treat that can be prepared in a variety of ways. Mussels can easily be found at low tide by searching between rocks and under seaweed just above the water line. Typically I can collect enough for a feast in less time than it takes to prepare them for dinner. Even if you anchor only in warm waters or if you’re a cruiser who does most of your “fishing” in grocery stores, you’ll often find mussels in the seafood section, and typically they’re the least expensive shellfish to boot.
Mussels are wonderful when they’re simply steamed plain or used as a base for pasta sauces. However, my wife and daughter prefer them cooked the following way. Even people who insist that they don’t like mussels will often change their minds once they smell the aromas from this dish.
Mussels Makana Recipe
1 cup water or white wine
4 ounces bacon or sausage, chopped finely
1/4 cup onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic or 1 shallot, chopped finely
Handful of black olives, chopped (optional)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Black or white pepper, basil, oregano, and/or thyme, to taste
Steam cleaned mussels in a covered pot, using a small amount of water or white wine, until shells open. Remove mussels and set aside; discard any that don’t open. Reserve broth. Once mussels cool, split open and scoop out meat. Set aside. Reserve 12 of the largest half-shells and place the meat from two mussels into each half-shell. Place the shells face up in a shallow baking dish. In a separate bowl, combine bacon or sausage, onion, garlic or shallot, and olives, bind with a little olive oil, then spoon mixture onto each half-shell. Sprinkle with cheese and spices, then top with a few drops of olive oil. Bake at 400 F for 10 to 15 minutes; finish by broiling until cheese turns golden brown. Serve with fresh bread and the reserved broth as a dipping sauce. Serves two adults as an appetizer. Garnish with parsley and serve with sliced lemons, if available.
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