Posts Tagged ‘mussels’

Fishermen feed the world (especially on PEI)

mussels1
I met one of my heroes yesterday at the PEI International Shellfish Festival. I say “hero” even though I had never known his name until I met him, but Jozef Van Den Bremt changed the way a lot of us eat. A Belgian immigrant who wanted to find a way to contribute to his adopted country and his new home province of Prince Edward Island, he set out in the 1970s to figure out how to grow blue mussels. It’s not that mussels were uncommon.

Joel They cling to every rock and pier in the North Atlantic–and every one of those wild mussels is full of grit in its flesh. To get sweet, juicy and grit-free mussels, you need to cultivate them on a substrate where the sand doesn’t wash into them. Van Den Bremt went to Holland and to Spain to see how they did it, and quickly figured that the winter ice around PEI would crush the raft environments that Europe used. Through trial and error, he developed a rope strategy, producing his first cultured mussels in 1978 for PEI Mussel King, Inc. They sold for 40 cents a pound. Mussels today bring in $26.7 million a year to the province–and give us all a lot of good eating. What Van Den Bremt likes best is that the mussel industry is spread all around the island among individuals. “The money,” he says, “doesn’t go into corporate coffers. It goes to the fishermen-farmers.”

So I count it an honor to have shaken the hand of the Belgian immigrant who showed us North Americans just how good a mussel can be. Joe’s proud, too, that it was his gift back to Canada. He estimates that mussel aquaculture has brought $1 billion to Prince Edward Island in the last 36 years.

Tasty start to PEI International Shellfish Festival

lobster chowder2Mussels, oysters, or lobster? It’s hard to choose among them on Prince Edward Island, the small Canadian province with the massive shellfish harvest. This year I’m getting my fill of all of them as a judge of Garland Canada International Chef Challenge. But before the competitions got started on Friday the 13th, I joined 500 other diners for the Feast and Frolic kickoff dinner at the Charlottetown Festival Grounds. Food Network Canada star (and Islander) chef Michael Smith played emcee, and the students of the Culinary Institute of Canada did the cooking. It was an auspicious beginning.

The moderately deconstructed lobster chowder (above) consisted of a celeriac broth with foraged sea asparagus and green swoops of pureed lovage. A butter-poached claw and half-tail of PEI lobster was perched on a slab of perfect PEI potato (a fingerling cut lengthwise in thirds).

0 - salad servingAs Smith gleefully pointed out, locavore dining has always been the rule on PEI, and to drive it home, the salad course consisted of a big bowl of mixed greens and flowers (nasturtium, violas) and lettuce that each table harvested with scissors from planter centerpieces. Ilona Daniel of the Culinary Institute was at my table, so she mixed the dressing and tossed the salad.

Beef and crabBut the capper of the evening was an unusual surf and turf: braised PEI grassfed beef shortrib with some possibly local (I couldn’t find out) snow crab legs and a side bucket of PEI blue mussels. It was a reminder that even a small island like PEI has a resident beef industry, and that while most of us think of snow crab as a northern Pacific species, Islanders do indeed fish for them in the waters north of the island.

Steaming mussels in Belgian witbier

Eric Cauwbarghs of Brasserie Kouterhof

Eric Cauwbarghs of Brasserie Kouterhof

As Belgians will attest, beer is every bit as good as white wine for steaming mussels. Chef Eric Cauwbarghs of the Brasserie Kouterhof, which is attached to the ‘t Wit Gebrouw brewery in Hoegaarden, Belgium (about a half hour east of Brussels on a commuter train), showed me this straightforward but aromatic way to make a hearty winter dish of mussels and vegetables. The brewery’s Hoegaarden witbier (white beer) is made with Curaçao orange peel and coriander, and the aromatics make a big difference in the flavor of the mussels. When I can’t find Hoegaarden witbier at home (it’s distributed selectively by Anheuser-Busch), I substitute another wheat beer and augment it with a little fresh orange zest.

MUSSELS IN WITBIER


Ingredients

2 pounds mussels
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 stalk of celery, cut diagonally in 1/2 inch slices
2 small crowns broccoli, sliced 1/4 inch thick on the long diagonal
1 large red pepper, seeded and cut in 1/2 inch strips
3/4 cup Hoegaarden witbier
1/4 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Directions

1. Scrub mussels in cold water, removing any adhering beards or barnacles and discarding any broken mussels or any that don’t close when touched by cold water. Reserve cleaned mussels.

2. Place olive oil in large sauté pan with tall sides. Warm over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.

3. Add garlic, celery, broccoli, and red peppers. Turn heat to high. Stirring continuously, sauté until broccoli begins to soften, about 2 minutes.

Mussels and vegetables

Mussels and vegetables

4. Add mussels to sauté pan. Add beer and anchovy paste and stir constantly over high heat until mussels open (2-3 minutes). Pour in cream and stir until warmed through.

5. Add sliced scallions and chopped parsley to pan. Stir well over high heat for another 30 seconds.

6. Serve with freshly cut bread, cold beer, and extra bowls for the shells.

01

12 2009