Sea Bounty Mussels

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Serves

    4

    : You will Need to Begin this Recipe 2 Days Ahead

Appears in

Origin

By Ben Shewry

Published 2012

  • About

You often hear people like me waxing lyrical about the high standard, exclusivity and provenance of their ingredients. But where does that leave the other 85 per cent of the population who can’t afford or don’t have access to such food?

In 2011 I was frustrated by the quality of the mussels we were receiving — one day they would be great, another day rubbish. One morning I finally cracked it and asked our supplier Clamms Seafood to gather up a sample of mussels from every available source and bring them to us. There were mussels from six different producers from around Australia. We tested each against each other for freshness, flavour and texture. One sample stood out as a beacon of quality in a sea of mediocrity. I rang my supplier and friend Jason Jurie and he said that the sample had come from a farm called Sea Bounty farm in Portarlington, just thirty kilometres across the bay from Attica.

Jason and I decided to visit the farm to have a close look at their operations and to meet the owner/farmer Lance Wiffen and his team, but on the morning of the proposed visit I was feeling down and felt like cancelling. I felt like lying in bed and feeling sorry for myself. Overworked, understaffed and without proper time to spend with my family, I was feeling blue. As close to a feeling of depression I’ve ever felt, and as close to throwing in the towel and doing something else as I’ve ever been.

I’d left it too late to cancel, however, and when Jason picked me up and we went out on the bay with Lance in his boat, Spindrift, I felt my spirits rise. As Lance talked of the hardships he faced on a daily basis as a farmer, my own issues seemed small in comparison. I know now that that day with Jason and Lance was one of the most important days in my life. I didn’t realise it at the time but it would be the last day I’d get to spend with my friend Jason. And it taught me to be truly grateful for the amazing things I have in my life and how short it really is.

In the past Lance Wiffen would have been seen as a hero and celebrated as a farmer growing such a clean, nutrient-rich and sustainable source of protein for his community. But instead he toils away in the bay, hardly aware of the quality of the product he so lovingly farms. This is very sad because food has lost its once culturally important position in our society due to our general disconnect from the ingredients that we eat and where they come from.

How can I truly appreciate the effort it takes to grow a great sustainable ingredient if I know nothing of it. It’s this knowledge and understanding that makes me a better cook because it’s not just my reputation on the line. All of our customers know that these are Sea Bounty mussels.

When I’m cooking there are voices inside my head and they are saying: ‘Don’t you screw this up, don’t you even think about it, you pussy.’ The voices are telling me ‘you’ve seen the effort it takes to grow this … don’t you mess it up’. I might as well spit in the face of Lance and all of our other producers if I cook their ingredients poorly. I consider poor and careless cooking a total lack of character and an absolute weakness in myself.

The best ingredients are grown when man interferes with them the least. And that’s what you have with the mussels from the Wiffens — they’re better and more sustainable than wild. They’re an ingredient that all Victorians can access and afford.

To Finish

  • 1 litre (35 fl oz/4 cups) non-GM canola oil*
  • 1 piece dried hairy weed seaweed (see Note)
  • 4 sprigs wild sea succulent

Heat the oil in a deep-sided medium saucepan to 200°C (392°F).

Coat the mussels in the rye crumb, gently place in the hot oil and deep-fry for 30 seconds. Remove the mussels with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.

Place the hairy weed on each plate and place a mussel on top. The hairy weed acts as a cake rack of sorts — allowing the air to circulate around the mussel so it doesn’t go soggy on one side. Place a sprig of wild sea succulent on each mussel. Allow the mussels to rest for 1 minute from the time you remove them from the oil until serving.

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