Magazine article Sunset

A Taste of the West: Mussels to Remember

Magazine article Sunset

A Taste of the West: Mussels to Remember

Article excerpt

A rule travelers forget, with regret, was violated once when my daughter, then about 10, and I were driving along the coast of Normandy. At first taste, she fell in love with mussels steamed with wine and creme fraiche. She had them for lunch, then she had them for dinner. The next day she did the same thing. On the third day, as we turned inland, I firmly suggested a menu change, promising she could have mussels again later on. Well, they weren't to be found in any town that followed. And like all tourists who anticipate that a regional dish--or an indigenous treasure--will be available on down the road, we failed to enjoy all the mussels we could before passing out of their province. This incident was a sore point for many days. But back home, I was able to redeem myself.

Pacific mussels, whose tender meat is bright orange to ivory, are much like those of Normandy. When I steamed them with homemade creme fraiche and a domestic white wine, all was forgiven. Since then, we've also come to like them steamed with sweet cream as well. It's a pleasing variation.

Not only do native mussels taste like the French ones, but my fish-guru friend in Washington, Jon Rowley, pointed out that some are actually the same. It seems West Coast mussels were joined here by Mediterranean ones so long ago that both were presumed to be native. It's speculated that the Europeans arrived as hitchhikers on the bottoms of the first explorers' sailing ships. With learned inspection, you can see differences between the shell shapes. Another distinction: natives spawn in spring and summer, migrants in winter.

In safer times, before pollution concerns, we often gathered mussels from the seashore--they are all along the coast. …

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