There is nothing more satisfying than the sweet and salty taste of a fresh mussel. Purchasing them from a market and preparing them yourself brings out the fresh and salty flavor of the mussel, but what about going out and harvesting your own? Mussels are a delightful seaside treat, but when you’ve brought them in yourself, they’re beyond rewarding.
So how do you harvest your own mussels? The process is surprisingly simple and with the right tools and the knowledge of where and when to go, anyone can harvest their own mussels.
How to Catch Mussels
Preparation is your best friend when it comes to harvesting mussels. The act of harvesting them is the easy part, making sure you’re prepared for the trip with the right tools and regulations is where many mussel harvesting parties fail. The best practice when harvesting mussels is to come with tools for pulling. This includes gloves, buckets, and even a crowbar for the pesky mussels that won’t let go of the rock. You’ll be walking around on bunches of rocks so you won’t want shoes that have too much give.
Before you head out for your mussel hunting adventure, you’ll want to make note of the tides. The best time to catch mussels is low tide when the water has receded and revealed the below surface rocks they’re clinging to. Higher tide doesn’t mean you won’t find any mussels, the process will simply be more difficult as you’ll have to deal with the subsurface struggle of finding and picking the mussels. Low tide allows you to see what’s available to catch!
Once you arrive with the proper footwear, the best tools for plucking, and at the best time, you’re ready to begin harvesting the mussels. This is an incredibly simple process that can be done by anyone. Simply grab the mussel near the base where it attaches to the rock, twist, and pull. Once you have the mussel off the rock, place it in your bucket and move on to the next one. You should fill the bucket partially up with water to keep the mussel fresh and remove any sand or salt.
Finding the Best Mussels
When you’re out harvesting mussels, you’re likely to encounter a vast number of them all in one group. It can be tempting to simply pull at the first ones you see, but this will leave you with a bucket full of small, meatless, or even dead mussels. You don’t want to return from your harvest with the bare minimums so it pays to look through the batch and find the ones that look healthiest. The best mussels are the biggest ones. If they’re about the size of your thumb, they’re perfect.
It’s not too difficult to pick out which mussels are alive and which ones are dead. A living mussel will never be open when in the air – they always shut their shells when exposed to life above water. If the mussel is above the water and is already open, then that is a dead mussel and should be discarded immediately as they are not great table fair. If you pick a closed mussel that is larger than your thumb, you’re in for a tasty dinner.
Preparing and Storing the Mussels
When transporting the mussels from the harvesting point back to your home where you’re going to prepare them, it’s important to keep them in the bucket and have the bucket filled with water. While this might make transporting them more difficult, it is entirely necessary for the quality of the mussels. You should keep your mussels in the water for several hours as this will wash out any dirt or sand left over and offer you a fresher and cleaner taste when enjoying them.
Once you’re home, and they’ve been thoroughly soaked, it’s time to clean the mussels. Rub their outer shells with a damp cloth to remove any excess dirt or debris from their exterior. You don’t want this to come off when you’re steaming or boiling them as it could get trapped in the mean of the mussel leaving you with an undesirable crunch. You should also throw away any mussels that are cracked damaged as these might have gone bad while in transit.
Remember to never restrict their access to water or air. The best mussels you’ll eat will be the ones that are alive up until the cooking process. This means that you shouldn’t tie them in a plastic bag for easier transportation as this could kill your whole batch. Eating a dead mussel isn’t dangerous, just not that tasty or fun. You can tell if a mussel died during transit by whether their mouths are open once exposed to air or not. If you take them out of the bucket, and they stay open, toss them.
Easy Ways to Cook the Mussels
The most common way to cook mussels is by steaming them. This provides a fresh and salty taste to each mussel and allows you to keep the flavors rich and accessible. Simply season them with your favorite seaside spices – we love using Old Bay as it helps boost the sweetness of the mussels – toss in some water, put the lid back on and let them steam for about 15 minutes. You’ll know they’re finished once the shells have all opened up.
Another fantastic method of cooking mussels is smoking them. The flavor added from the wood or the charcoal alone is delicious and enough to send you right to a cookout by the sea. This process is simple as well and requires wood chips to be soaked in water before the mussels. Once the chips are thoroughly soaked – about 20 minutes – put them in the bottom of a baking pan, cover them in a grill top, place the mussels on top and let them go underneath a layer of tin foil. This process might take longer, but you’ll know they’re done when they’ve all opened up. Season them and enjoy!