I won’t give you the name of the beach (or I’ll show up next weekend and everyone will be there) but if you head over the bridge from Hobart, Tasmania to the eastern shore and continue on towards Opossum Bay there’s a headland covered with mussels upon which I satisfy some of my caveman urges.
Child cave-people are equally attracted to mussel hunting and can be involved from as young as 18 months. I’ve found mine is extremely interested in eating the fruits of her labor. With little training the youngest caveling has become adept at identifying fat black morsels for the pot, with frequent cries of “Daddy! A big one!”
Walk down the beach from the dirt car park and head towards the rocks. Ideally you’ve arrived at low tide on a day with little swell, which will make it easier to wade in to the rocks which are heavy with the shiny black creatures.
It’s likely to be somewhat windy and overcast (the default setting for Tasmania) but undress to your togs and wade in. Pretend that the colder you are, the more cave-person and hard-core you are – it’s what I do.
By walking out on the lower rock shelf carefully you can access the fattest individuals, secreted in the tightest creases and crevices. Beware any big set waves seeking to knock you down, or spray being vaporized and blown across you like icy needles.
Pick your way across the slippery rocks until you spy a group of larger mussels and making sure a set wave isn’t about to detonate, crouch and begin your harvest, stopping only when you are drenched and chilled, pockets bulging with your catch.
There are two species of mussels predominant in this area, the Tasmanian Blue Mussel, and a smaller purple variety I haven’t seen available commercially. When wet they’re both a glossy black and shape is the only visible difference. Both are very good eating but the Blue Mussels tend to be larger and to hold more meat.
They’re also easier to de-beard. De-bearding is a part of the cleaning process and requires one to take a firm grip on the furry ‘beard’ which protrudes from one side of the shell and simultaneously pull out and along the length of the shell.
Fill your pockets! A bag-limit of 100 per person per day means you can essentially take as many as you can carry.
Mussels keep seawater inside their shells and will comfortably stay alive and fresh on your trip home.
At home, put your catch in a large bowl or bucket and cover with fresh water for a few hours. You can rub or scrape off any barnacles at this point if you care (I don’t).
This dish is the quintessential French summer seaside dish; cultured fast food; a transportation device to Provence. Good any time but best on a sunny balcony with friends and wine.
Hobart Moules Mariniere Recipe
Per person, 20-30 small, sweet Tasmanian mussels (or whatever fresh mussels you can lay hands on)
Chives, marjoram, thyme.
Acidic refreshing white wine (or cider)
Bacon or pancetta (optional, I add this according to whim and availability)
Drain the mussels and de-beard.
Put a large, heavy based pot on a medium flame and add a generous knob of butter and plenty of finely chopped garlic and herbs. If you’re adding bacon or pancetta add it here and fry gently for 3-5 minutes.
When the butter has melted and begins to bubble, turn the flame to high and tumble all of your mussels into the pot and stir to coat them in the hot butter.
Add a good splash of a sharp, crisp white wine, put the lid on and give everything a shake to combine.
Double check your flame is on high, then don’t touch the pot for 2 or 3 minutes.
When you lift the lid of the pot, a huge cloud of incredibly perfumed steam will assail you; stir and check the mussels, if they’re open – they’re ready.
Every mussel contains it’s own salt water to contribute to the pot, meaning this dish requires no salting.
Pour the pot out into a large serving bowl and throw a handful of chopped parsley over the top. Serve immediately, steaming and reeking of garlic and the sea.
At this point fresh crusty bread should be broken, and a crisply acidic white wine should be poured liberally. Try a young Riesling or a Spanish Alberino if you’re being fancy.
A green salad could be served with this but is by no means a necessity.
By now the sun should be thawing your chilled toes, the Moules your palette, and the satisfaction of your cave-person urges suffusing your entire being with a warm glow.