Thursday, April 1, 2010

Early spring pickings

One of the things I miss about growing up where I did was that we were close enough to a major body of water to have fresh seafood available at many local restaurants. Off the mainland of the Bronx is City Island, a residential neighborhood that is packed with great seafood places up and down the main drag of the island. I learned from an early age how to judge a good slice of fish, or how a lobster should be cooked properly, but my favorite dish was really mussels, dipped in butter and garlic. It wasn't until I was almost an adult that I learned that most mussels are not harvested from the sea, but actually from trees that often root close to large bodies of water.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that bit of information. It seems that tree mussels (bivalvia mollusca rootus), while varied is size, are often more flavorful than their fresh or salt water cousins. They tend to be larger, as they few natural predators, and draw their nutrients directly from the trees themselves. Some variants are root feeders, while others stay higher up in the trees.

After a winter hibernation, they are best picked in late spring - early summer, as they grow rather rapidly. One should never pick them in the fall, as the quality tends to diminish as they prepare for winter hibernation. Also, make sure you wash them thoroughly, and steaming is usually the best way to insure that there will be no chance of microbial infection from it being under-cooked. Like with all mussels, over cooking them can make them rubbery, so be diligent.

So, if you live in a place that is near a large body of water, look for those mussel trees! You might be surprised to find out that you never knew they were there in the first place. They make great eating, and are a tasty side dish or main meal.