Braised Conwy Mussels
At one minute past midnight on the third Thursday of each November and from little villages and towns, over a million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau begin their journey through a sleeping France to Paris for immediate shipment to all parts of the world. Banners proclaim the good news: Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! "The New Beaujolais has arrived!" One of the most frivolous and animated rituals in the wine world has begun. By the time it is over, over 65 million bottles, nearly half of the region's total annual production, will be distributed and drunk around the world. It has become a worldwide race to be the first to serve to this new wine of the harvest. In doing so, it will be carried by motorcycle, balloon, truck, helicopter, Concorde jet, elephant, runners and rickshaws to get it to its final destination. It is amazing to realize that just weeks before this wine was a cluster of grapes in a growers vineyard. But by an expeditious harvest, a rapid fermentation, and a speedy bottling, all is ready at the midnight hour.
Here in Conwy we celebrate our own arrival: Le Moule est arrivé! Its Conwy’s oldest industry and unlike the Beaujolais it does not arrive on a set date. The weather plays an important role in the timescale for the harvesting of mussels. Mussels have been gathered in the Conwy estuary since Roman times. They were primarily collected for their pearls and Conwy was once one of the most important pearl fisheries in the country. In the 19th Century over 4 kilos of pearls collected from Conwy mussels were sent each week to jewellers in London. Nowadays the mussels are collected in considerable quantities for human consumption, they are a popular delicacy but the season for gathering them only lasts during the winter months when the tourists have gone! Mussels grow in clusters, attaching themselves by means of a “byssus” which are numerous threads, produced by the mussel its self that allows the mussel to cling to rocks or other supports such as jetties, pier’s and gravel beaches.
The Trevor Jones and his “musselmen” use 25ft long rakes to trawl the mussel beds and once harvested the mussels are put into purification tanks for 2 days before they are sold to restaurants and hotels all over Wales and England.
Every year I look forward to the start of the Conwy mussel season. I never use any other mussels and I’m sure once you have tried them for your self you will agree they are the best.
Ingredients for 4 People
2 Kg of Mussels
2 Large Shallots
1 Clove of Garlic
100ml Dry White Wine
200ml Double Cream
25grms Chopped Fresh Parsley
1. Clean the mussels by removing all the barnacles and the beards from the outside of the shells in plenty of cold running water.
2. Discard any mussels that are damaged or ones that are fully open and don’t close if you give them a squeeze.
3. Peel and finely chop the shallots and garlic clove.
4. Heat a heavy based sauce pan that has a tight fitting lid.
5. Add the mussels, shallots, garlic and the white wine to the pan, cover with the lid and cook until the mussels open. This should take only 2-3 minutes.
6. When the mussels are open remove from the pan with a slotted spoon.
7. Reduce the cooking liquor by half then add the double cream.
8. Bring the sauce back to the boil and add the chopped parsley.
9. Drop the mussels back into the sauce to re-heat.
10. Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve with crusty white bread spread with pesto.