Hunter-Gatherer: Mussels

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mussels

Much of my training life consists of hikes and trail runs along the Southern Oregon Coast. I sometimes question why I always wear a backpack. My Scottish skin has never experienced a perfect bronze tan… and it never will. Even if I started with 3 minutes of sun per day in the spring and gradually increased my exposure to 3 hours per day in August, I’d have strap lines mimicking all the angularity of a laser light show mesmerizing blinding people for miles. That said, I usually only think twice about packing a bit of gear on the toastiest of days or while I’m latched to the gnarliest of climbs. Here’s why…

Food! On this particular day, I set out amply satiated by a hearty breakfast. Knowing me, it was something intended to be an omelet,  but wouldn’t fold over once I’d thoroughly packed it with goodness. The plan was just to hit the trail and count off however many miles I cram into about four hours. And yes, I’m fully blaming the whopping 2 miles per hour average that I clocked to tasty sea creatures. When there’s a fork in the trail, and a post in the ground is etched with an arrow pointing to the left that says “beach”, and an arrow to the right that says “trail”, I go left. And when the tide is low and the rocks are exposed, I get wet.

How to Harvest Mussels

Depending on where you live in the world, harvesting shellfish can be a sketchy endeavor. Our civilization(s) have done an excellent job of bringing the oceans to the brink of death. One great thing about the Oregon Coast is that it’s often safe to eat the shellfish. Another great thing is that there’s a handy website with current updates on the safety of various shellfish. I peek at it at regular intervals just in case I happen to run into an opportunity. On this day, opportunity abounded. So I took to the water and sliced a large clump of mussels from the rocks and had an impromptu snack.

Mussels are pretty easy to procure if you can get to the rocks they’re fond of. They adhere directly to the rocks, but not enough to prevent you from pulling them off. They’re often connected together in big masses of stringy fibers that, if left intact, makes them easy to carry in a pre-arranged bunch. I just cut the stringy stuff around a big bunch, then pry them off individually without breaking the stringies holding them together. If you have a blade that you don’t mind prying them off the rocks with, this may be a little easier.

A note on mussels… the size of the shell doesn’t necessarily indicate the amount of meat inside. Of course, the tiny ones have very little meat, but the huge shelled monsters seem to have about the same amount of meat as the medium ones. When harvesting them, I try to get a patch that are all medium-huge and leave the tiny ones. You’ll typically notice they’re clustered in similar sizes based on their location on the rocks. If anyone knows the most sustainable pattern for harvesting, please let me know…. unless your answer is “go vegan”. Yeah vegans… I know you’re smart-asses, but you’re adorable all the same.

Cooking

Cooking mussels is pretty simple. They can be boiled, steamed, baked, grilled, et cetera. Just like cooking clams, they need to be cooked until they open up a bit. If they don’t open, they’re probably dead and it’s best to skip those. If you’re pulling them straight off the rocks, they’re probably not going to be dead. I didn’t have any cookware with me. All I did was start up a fire with the fire-starter I keep in my pack, then find something to hold them out of the fire while they cooked. In this case, I roamed the beach a bit and found a shipwrecked crab pot. I simply positioned the mesh metal grate lid over a fire and propped it in place with some rocks. At other times, I’ve cooked them on rocks placed in the middle of the fire, or even with sticks (very green wood) spanning the fire in a crossing pattern. In the latter case, the mussels cooked before the sticks burned.

I keep forgetting to add some salt and tiny bottles of white wine to my pack. Those can easily be tossed in and forgotten about until the moment they’re needed.

I estimate this amount of mussels would cost approximately $11,543,456,034.05 at a restaurant. Because of the bulk of the shells, they had to weigh over 10 pounds total. Yum!

The gallery below includes pictures from the paleo snackeo and the trail/beach that day. It’s from the Evolvify.com Facebook Page.


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