M is for mussels
The butterfly symmetry of those inky, shiny shells is utterly beguiling – what's inside even more so! Norfolk Blue or Common mussels, particularly those from Brancaster, are big juicy morsels of succulent flesh (the orange ones are female, male ones are more yellow).
Once referred to as the 'poor man's shellfish', because they were cheap and plentiful, mussels can be a meal for royalty let alone a poor man! Thankfully, they're still relatively cheap, plentiful and sustainable.
Mussels fix themselves to objects with byssus threads, or 'beards', produced as a liquid that quickly hardens in seawater.
If you're cooking them, make sure they're firmly shut (or shut when you tap them firmly) and discard any with broken shells. Any that stay open – ditch them. Make sure you clean them thoroughly in cold running water. Tug out any beards. Rinse them and leave in cold water. Any that float – ditch them.
Mussels dry out quickly, so a little light steaming in a little liquid, such as white wine or cider, is all it takes. They're ready when they open. Any that stay shut – ditch them! Don’t overcook them or they'll be more rubbery than lovely.
To get them at their freshest take a drive on the A149 coast road in north Norfolk – you'll find fishermen selling them directly and there are a number of good outlets too, such as The Fish Shed at Brancaster Staithe, Gurneys Fish Shop at Burnham Market and Westons Fish Shop at Blakeney. Otherwise pop into pretty much any good pub in north Norfolk and they'll be on the menu when in season.
PS Did you hear about the shrimp that went to the prawn's cocktail party? He pulled a mussel!
We’ll get our coat…