These timbers are treated and the mussels can pick up on the toxins used in the tanalising process.
While they are relatively fast growing, mussels do suffer from local depletion so only take what you need. Be careful to sort your catch carefully. While there is no size limit every mussel you take will count towards your daily limit, even those very small ones a centimetre or two long attached to the more mature shells.
Many believe mussels are best gathered in any month with an ‘r’ in it; others disregard this, suggesting they are best eaten any day of the week with a ‘y’ in it! Regardless of your personal choice, mussels are a great food available all year round that will not cost you the earth. If you are not a hunter-gatherer in the traditional sense, make a point of asking at the seafood counter what days the mussels come in and buy them then to get them as fresh as possible. Only select mussels that have closed shells and after steaming them open, if that is how you choose to prepare them, discard any that have remained closed.
As well as steaming, mussels are ideal for serving in the half-shell. Simply run a short-bladed knife on the angle around the shell, starting with a ‘twist’ of the blade at the hinge of the shell to give you room to slip the knife in.
Whatever way you choose to cook them, scrub the mussels first to remove any loosely attached grit, limpets and the like, and if you can, pull the ‘beard’ out.
Traditionally mussels have been eaten lightly steamed, placed in a bowl and covered with a little of the water left over from the steaming process, then mixed with vinegar to taste. To this, salt and ground pepper is added along with a chopped onion. It is then left to ‘stew’ in the refrigerator before being eaten between two bits of lightly buttered fresh bread. But quite often they won’t last that long, being dealt to still warm straight out of the shell, washed down by your favourite tipple.
While shellfish from the aquaculture sector is closely monitored for harmful bacteria, this is not always the case for shellfish gathered from the wild. In most cases open water areas are fine, but more caution needs to be taken when gathering seafood from harbours or more densely populated areas. Local authorities do conduct some water quality monitoring and where higher than normal bacterial levels are found, will post notices to that effect and close the area to seafood gathering and swimming.