Mussels – no longer the forgotten seafood cousins

The Great Mussel and Clam Cookbook by Mirrai Mussels

By Robyn Lewis
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Pinot Week, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Pinot Week, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria [©Visions of Victoria]

Mussels from the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Beer and mussels, Red Hill Brewery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

 

As the VisitVineyards.com team travels about the country checking out the latest in wine and food, we always stop at local bookshops, hoping to unearth a regional culinary treasure or two – books that capture the flavour and colour of the locality.

From Noosa to Margaret River, this has always been a joy – but one which sadly now seems to be diminishing. For as Amazon.com and the large book chains proliferate, so the small independent stores just ... vanish.

If your diet is inspired solely by Kylie Kwong, Maggie Beer and Stephanie Alexander (all of whom I greatly admire) this might be fine, but as much as they collectively know about cooking, it can never be all.

It's the same with wine – no one author, no matter how experienced, can taste 24/7 and still have the time, the remnant brain cells or the liver power to taste and write about more than 30,000 wines currently being produced in Australia, let alone the imports.

I applaud smaller niche food and wine publishers such as Hardie Grant and Murdoch Books for helping to fill the gap, but they too are constrained by commercial formulae – producing what (they think) will sell, and getting them onto the shelves in time for Christmas or other anniversaries.

So, we have a dichotomy – as consumer interest in local wine and food burgeons, as we seek to connect more with makers and producers, we are increasingly unable to find books and recipes that capture the essence of a region.

You can take home a piece of Tuscany, recreate the sunshine of Provence in your kitchen – but not, it seems, of many states of Australia, let alone regions. If the modern tropical Queensland cookbook can be found, can someone please lead me to it? Because all I could find in a recent cookbook foray in Cairns was Kylie, Kylie, Kylie and tastes of the Barossa, a mere 5000 km distant and with not a coral trout in sight.

So it was with some pleasure that I chanced upon The Great Mussel and Clam Cookbook at The Tasting Station in Rosebud, in Victoria's Mornington Peninsula. This maritime region is well know for its mussels, which feature frequently at its increasingly good restaurants and can be found fresh at local fish markets.

Mussels have always been a bit of a mystery to me – something to eat out, and not tackle at home. Moules meuniere at a French bistro yes, but even throwing an experimental mussel on the barbie has until now seemed too, well, hard is not the right word, but just somehow I've never done it. However, this book might soon change all that.

The Australian mussel industry is rapidly expanding, especially for the cultivated and delicious blue mussel, which is also grown (and widely consumed) in China, along with the Netherlands, Denmark, France and Spain. No doubt they have their own mussel recipe books, but this seems to be Australia's first. We have our own clean, fresh, nutritious and increasingly available mussels – so why buy them, and how to prepare?

The Great Mussel and Clam Cookbook is something of an international roundup, commencing with San Francisco and Manhatten seafood chowders, then heading to Europe for inspiration, from Scandinavia to Malta via Italy and France. There is nothing perhaps uniquely Australian, but the adventurous home cook or chef could soon change that with the addition of say lemon-myrtle infused olive oil or native pepperberries instead of normal black corns. Or the barbecue.

There are also Asian influences – as a lover of Asian cuisine my antennae rise – perhaps I have associated mussels with pernod cream sauce for too long?

Curried mussels, tom yum, Chinese-style mussels, hot and sour, chilli – the imagined possibilities are starting to expand. Clams and pipies are an even greater unknown to me, and as they are also cheaply and increasingly readily available in Southern Australia at least, the thought of Goan pipi curry has me both epicurious and salivating.

Many of the recipes could also be adapted to other seafood such as scallops or even squid and fish. For A$20, this beautifully illustrated little book is a no-brainer and would make a great gift or to keep as inspiration for what to have with a lovely bottle of Australian white wine for a summer's lunch. The Antipodean seafood Christmas has never looked easier.

 

The Great Mussel and Clam Cookbook (RRP A$20) is published by R&R Marketing of Carlton North, Victoria and is distributed by Mirrai Mussels. The latter also produce a range of mussel-inpired homewares which would grace any beachside residence and delight the mussel chef in your life.

Regions

  • Bellarine Peninsula (VIC)
  • Geelong and Bellarine Peninsula (VIC)
  • Great Ocean Road (VIC)
  • Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

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