Place of Origin: Lyckorna, Sweden
By Julianne Keskey
I arrived home from a fantastic trip to Sweden nearly a week ago and I’m still having night-sweats just thinking about the smell of fresh caught, delicious mussels steaming on an outdoor grill on the sea. If I didn’t have the pictures to prove my experience, I would just think it was a silly culinary dream. Plump mussels that resembled a juicy, grocery store rotisserie chicken, thick cut fries, fresh made aioli, and mussel stock so scrumptious I would soak it up with a piece bread if I found any dripping down my chin!
Okay, okay… here’s the story.
My lovely group and I arrived at Musselbaren in Lyckorna on Sweden’s West Coast, ready to gear up and find out what a Mussel Safari was all about. In West Sweden, seafood safaris are plentiful- you go out with a fisherman, pick fresh seafood, get a cooking lesson once you’re back on shore and finally, devour the fruits of your labor!
We were taken out to the mussel farm (doesn’t that sound a little more exciting than seafood?) and given a very informative lesson on mussels.
-Female mussels are equipped with 10 million eggs.
-Once fertilized, it takes only 24 hours for a mussel baby to form.
-They are one of the leanest forms of protein on the planet.
-A full size mussel filters up to 5 liters of water every hour.
-1 kilo of mussels (a standard bucket of mussels) filters 6,000 liters of water every hour.
-They eat phytoplankton and microalgae, keeping the bottom of the sea healthy and improving overall water quality!
They stick to belts and chains set up between floating barrels where they hang out, eating their fill and waiting to become a delicious treat. Japanese oysters, coral, baby starfish and tiny shrimp also find these farms to be the perfect environment for growing.
After the experience of a classic storybook foggy-day-at-sea as fisherman, I was more than anxious to get back to Musselbaren for the culinary cooking lesson of my dreams! When we returned we were greeted by an outdoor propane mussel grill, waiting solemnly to fulfill its duty of steaming a bucket of fresh mussels.
The first step was adding oil to the sizzling grill top. Raindrops danced in the hot oil, calling for a quick move under the deck awning. Finely chopped vegetables were next in line- carrots, garlic, celery and onions. I wish I could have captured the smell of the searing veggies on that seasoned grill top. From that moment forward we were all in utter euphoria. Once the medley had time to sweat, parsley and dried chili were tossed in.
After a bit more caramelizing of the vegetables, he doused the glistening skillet with a splash of white wine. Again, the smell. If anyone wants to ever convince me of a heaven- take me to this place sweetly emblazoned into my memory.
Once the wine had de-glazed the bottom of the pan, it was finally time to add the mussels.
The lid was placed over our precious soon-to-be lunch and we waited patiently for ten whole minutes. For me, it was an eternity. But I can tell you, watching the lid come off of these plump buggers was one of the most satisfying food moments of my life.
Do you see that bubbly mussel stock?? I had never in my life seen mussels this plump and sumptuous. I didn’t even know that they could look like that! While the mussels steamed and did their thing, a crusty line of seasoning formed around the perimeter of the skillet. It was then scraped off and handed to us for a taste. This was umami if I had every tasted it!
Okay, it was time. The empty serving pots came out and waited patiently for their life’s purpose. We waited in single file for our filled vessels, like school kids walking down the hallway to the lunch room.
We had the entire dining room to ourselves. Simple Swedish decor and sea views were the perfect setting for this dreamy lunch.
I took my seat right next to this window with a fantastic view.
We sat down to a table with homemade aiolis, cream and fresh baked bread. The thick-cut fries were soon to follow. I was almost trembling with excitement!
I couldn’t believe that these mussels were SO plump that they looked like a miniature rotisserie chicken- thick thighs and all!
After I had completely devoured my mussels, there was only one thing left to do. The fries had to soak up all of that phenomenal stock. Not a drop could go to waste.
I’m going to be completely honest- this was the best meal I’d ever had. Just the experience of being on the coast of West Sweden, going out on the sea and being informed about the protein I was about to consume and getting a cooking lesson from the fisherman who caught the mussels was really a dream come true for me.
As you can see, not too much was left to waste… even if it did result in a full-fledged food coma.
Here’s the complete recipe, directly from Musselbaren (feeds four):
2 kg Scanfjord blue mussels
1/2 dl rapeseed oil
2 finely chopped onions
4 finely chopped garlic cloves
2 finely chopped carrots
1 finely chopped celery
4 dl white wine
1 dl chopped flat leaved parsley
1/2 fennel finely chopped
A large pinch of sea salt
A large pinch of chili
Handful of parsley to garnish
“Wash and scrub the mussels clean, always make sure they are fresh. Throw out the ones that are broken. Heat the oil and add the garlic, onions, carrots and celery. Before the onion starts to colour, add salt and chili and a good glug of white wine. Let this boil to reduce the liquid (take away alcohol) for a couple of minutes then add the mussels, cover, and keep cooking on high heat, up to 10 minutes so they get a nice tender texture. Fill up the mussels in a new pan so all mussels get covered by the tasteful fund. Garnish with a little parsley and serve with fresh baked bread, aioli and chilled drink with a touch of sweetness, or why not try a glass of mead or porter? Smaklig Maltid!”