Musseling in on a season full of flavour
North Wales is not short of an impressive history of kings, mighty battles, and imposing castles with walled towns and cities. Conwy, situated on the north coast, is one such town dominated by a castle built in the late 13th century by a King hell-bent on conquest over the Welsh: King Edward I of England. Formidable in stature, the castle looms over this market town on a formation of natural rock at the mouth of the River Conwy. To further secure his interests against indigenous folk, Edward protected this bustling market town with around twenty-two towers embedded into walls a little under a mile long. Today, a walk along these walls offers a unique perspective of the town.
Medieval architecture and marauding kings aside, Conwy is also home to some of the finest mussels ever to grace a table. Whilst rope-grown mussels have their merits, there is nothing quite like a Conwy mussel. They are left to grow larger in size and develop the characteristic flavour for which they are prized. Age old tradition, as with most things to be found at Conwy, is at the heart of the sustainability of the mussel beds in the River Conwy. When harvest time comes, between late September and March, the mussels are hand-raked from the sea-bed from where they naturally form. Barnacles and all.
Preparing fresh mussels is simple and they take only a few minutes to cook. Begin by gently scrubbing the mussel shells in cold running water to rid them of any seaweed or dirt. Carefully pull away the beard. Discard any shells that are cracked, or that do not close when tapped, or that are broken.
In a large pot, soften finely chopped shallot and garlic in butter over a slow heat. Pour in a generous measure of quality dry white wine and turn up the heat. Tip the prepared mussels into the pot and steam them until they’re fully open. If you like, stir in fresh cream to taste, and finish with freshly chopped parsley.
Serve the mussels with plenty of crusty bread to mop up the sauce, and discard any mussels that have barely opened or that are still closed.
People living in coastal regions or along rivers during medieval times undoubtedly dined on mussels fit for the King’s table. You will find them on offer in some of Conwy’s best eating houses throughout the season; and, after a day out to Conwy, a larger portion than perhaps would be recommended in one sitting, being devoured in our kitchen!
Mussels can be bought on the quay. If the shop is not open, a box of packaged mussels is left outside with an honesty box by way of paying. Alternatively, pay for your mussels at the Life Boat station next door.