One great thing about Vancouver Island is the yearly availability of seasonal food.
There is not much to harvest in the garden this time of year, but what about the harvest of the sea?
Winter weather yields the best quality in shellfish, the ocean in the cooler months producing the firmest oysters, clams and mussels.
Of the three, mussels are the easiest to harvest.
Learning how to harvest mussels is one of the most fun, simple foraging trips that anyone can do. However, people can be intimidated about harvesting their own shellfish, for fear of getting sick from red tide.
If you are thinking about shellfish harvesting, the information and licenses you need – to make sure that your wild foraged shellfish are legal and safe to eat – is available on the Department of Fisheries (DOF) web page.
It is rare for red tide to occur in the cold months, but always check the DOF website before any expedition.
My Dad taught me all this stuff a long time ago, so maybe consult an old time Vancouver Island resident before setting out on your first expedition. Simply put, search for harvesting spots with active surf. At low tide, do your harvesting by cutting the mussels off the rocks.
Once harvested, the mussels need to be soaked in water for an hour or so to purge the sand, then scrubbed, then cut off their hairy beards.
My favorite recipe for mussels is a traditional Italian one.
Choose a good wine for the recipe, as you get to drink the rest of the bottle with the meal.
Stags Hollow in the Okanagan makes a bright, fresh, white wine from Albarino grapes. This grape is primarily grown in Spain and Portugal, yet is flourishing in the Okanagan. Available at Lucky’s Liquor for $23.99, the Stags Hollow Albarino is loaded with citrus flavours and crisp acidity, making it utterly perfect to cook and drink with this classic dish.
Here is my mussels recipe:
2 lbs mussels, cleaned as above
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small chopped onion
3 chopped cloves of garlic
¼ teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
2 seeded and chopped Roma tomatoes
¼ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil. Add the peppers, wine and tomatoes. Turn up the heat and bring this all to a boil. Add the mussels and steam, shaking occasionally, until they are all open – about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open. Put the mussels in a serving dish then add the breadcrumbs and parsley to the pan liquids. Simmer for a minute or so while the sauce thickens and pour it over the mussels. Serve with fresh bread and the rest of the wine.
If you are not the foraging type, yet you love to eat local and seasonal, I would recommend Salt Spring Island Sea Farm mussels, available at most local grocery stores.