VisitScotland has decreed that 2015 is the Year of ‘Food and Drink’ which is a perfect fit for Oban and Lorn as we claimed the title of ‘Seafood Capital of Scotland’ many years ago! Our area is home to:
Love it or Loath it!
I guess shellfish is a bit like marmite – you either love it or loath it – so it’s just as well that Argyll offers fantastic beef, hill lamb and wild game for meat lovers! Many of Oban’s top restaurants serve freshly landed langoustines, oysters, mussels and seafish alongside a selection of locally produced meats. Provenance is important and VisitScotland’s Taste our Best scheme is open to restaurants, pubs, cafes and accommodation providers who regularly use more than 40% Scottish produce on their menus. Calmac is one of the most recent companies to win Taste our Best approval so even on the ferries there’s a good chance your meal will have an authentic Scottish flavour.
This a good thing and long overdue. For years, leading Scottish chefs have told anyone that would listen that the produce here is the best in the world – for too many years too much of it (especially shellfish) appeared on the best restaurant menus in France and Spain but didn’t feature at all on home soil. Twenty years ago when Oban hosted its first Seafood Festival an OLTA member tells a story of how one of their hotel guests stubbed out his cigar in a bowl of cockles and whelks which were set on the bar as a change from peanuts! Things have changed, but sadly the market for whelks (which are highly prized on the continent) is still tiny in the UK but at least we’ve succumbed to the delights of local mussels, razor clams and oysters....
An Environmentally Friendly Source of Protein
According to many academics mussel farming offers one of the best sources of protein and production costs and environmental impact are both low compared to animal protein. Farmed mussels are not ‘fed’ they are simply protected from predators as they dangle from the mussel rafts and lines that keep them clear of starfish. They feed naturally on the rich tidal waters of our sea lochs in conditions which are almost unique to Scotland as the best mussel growing waters have plenty of fresh water running off the hills. You’ll see the lines of black floats from the roadside – and if you’re lucky you might witness one of the lines being lifted clear of the water and the mussels being harvested! It takes two years for a mussel to grow large enough to eat and unlike shore harvested mussels, there’s hardly any beard to remove and no sand or grit to contend with once they’re cooked. Mussels are delicious simply steamed in a little salt water but classic dishes (some as with The Barn Bar’s version below, have a twist on the classic) are popular in local restaurants.
Moules Marniere Barn Bar Style – The Barn Bar, Lerags Glen – 2014 Scottish Regional Pub of the Year winner. Head Chef Mary Macleod.
3 generous handfuls of unopened (live) bearded and scraped (a nail brush works well) mussels per person (discard any that are open* or have damaged shells and do try to remove any barnacles)
1 large shallot or a couple of small ones
A sliver of garlic (if you don’t like garlic leave it out)
A glass of dry white wine – muscadet is good
Splash of single cream (you can leave this out if you’re counting calories)
1 Bay leaf, salt, pepper and chopped flat leaf parsley to garnish
Finely chop the shallot/s and gently sweat in a little butter and garlic to soften and cook without colouring.
Add the white wine and bay leaf, a pinch of salt and pepper and turn the heat up to high for a few minutes or so to cook off the alcohol
Add the mussels and cover with a tight fitting lid so the mussels steam not stew! Shake the pan frequently with the lid on to distribute the heat and after a few minutes remove the lid and stir to make sure that all the mussels have opened. If they have not, replace the lid and give them another minute, but be careful you don’t overcook!
Lower the heat, add a splash of cream and butter to thicken the sauce and stir well to coat all the mussels. At the Barn Bar we use enamel mussel pots which goes straight from the stove top to the table, but you can serve your mussels in any bowl you like. Garnish with some fresh lemon and a sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley and serve with a crusty warm roll or some homemade bread to soak up all that yummy sauce.
*it’s perfectly natural for live mussels to open so just tap any that have opened and if they don’t close immediately then discard!