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Mussels, a popular, versatile seafood

Wikispanishfood.com editorial team

Mussels, which are the most popular and least expensive seafood, are a classic ingredient in Mediterranean cooking and have been eaten since time immemorial.  Many a tale has been weaved around this mollusk, and a long time ago it was thought that the sun made them grow bigger.

The story goes that the Romans were the first to farm bivalve mollusks, using an elementary method whereby they collected the mussels in their natural habitat and transported them to other locations where they could grow and reproduce.

Mussel farming

Mussel farming dates back to the 18th century; however, the oldest documentation in Castilian Spanish which connects this practice with cooking is from 1560 and is associated with Martínez Montiño, Philip II's Galician chef and one of the first gastronomes in Spanish history.  

Canning was a practice that came later, and it's a format which currently accounts for a very high percentage of mussel consumption in Spain. Using an airtight food preservation method, the mussels are placed in tin cans, and assuming the interior lining of the can is in optimal condition, they can keep for up to five years.

There are many kinds of mussels (which are rich in iodine, iron and calcium) around the world, although those farmed in Galicia have achieved well-deserved fame. This European variety stands out for its oblong, thin and lightly grooved shell in shades of dark blue and black. The latest scientific advances in production along with information about the marine environment have made mussel farming an economic driver in Spain. Understanding the living conditions of this product and investing in research are factors that directly affect its quality, hygiene-health guarantees, and production.

Galicia, mussel hub

Galicia has five sub-zones: Ares-Sada, Muros-Noia estuary, Arousa estuary (which accounts for 69% of production and whose inhabitants' livelihoods depend on fishing), and Pontevedra and Vigo estuaries. There are close to 3,300 bateas, or floating mussel farm platforms, in more than 80 farming zones. Each mussel farm sells 65-70 tons. Of total production, 40% is sold fresh and the remainder is canned.

 Mussel consumption in Spain remains low and, interestingly enough, its primary consumers are not Galicians, who actually rank somewhere the middle, far behind people from the Balearic Islands, Asturias and Catalonia.

 Mussels are bought alive and the shells should be completely closed. They must be cooked within three days of purchase after removing all of the filaments and parasites that attach themselves to the shells. They are a popular dish at restaurants, as they can be prepared in many different ways. In Galicia, there are even places whose menus are based entirely on mussels.

Leading restaurants specializing in Galician mussels include ACIO, in Santiago de Compostela, which prepares them in ceviche; AS GARZAS, in Malpica de Bergantiños (A Coruña), which serves them in brine, and CASA ROMAN, in Pontevedra, which offers them in tempura.

The creative cuisine served at YAYO DAPORTA in Cambados (Pontevedra) by the chef and TV personality of the same name includes a wide range of recipes, such as mussels in tempura over rice cake and seaweed. At RIAS BAIXAS, in Vigo, mussel vinaigrette is a popular dish.

In Madrid, SACHA, Botillería y Figón is where Sacha Hormaechea has been preparing traditional and French-style mussels for many years.

 For innovative mussel dishes, head to ARZAK, one of Spain's leading restaurants, in San Sebastián, which offers a simple skewer of mussels (from a can) with pork rind. TICKETS, the brainchild of Albert Adría, in Barcelona, serves mussels in tomato sauce.

Mussels and wine

This product has infinite gastronomic possibilities and is delicious as an appetizer for example, along with a beer. However, steamed mussels and mussels vinaigrette pair perfectly with a good white wine, from Galicia (Albariño or Ribeiro) or from other regions. From a nutritional standpoint, they are very low in fat, and are high in protein, iron, calcium and vitamins B1 and B2. Mussels—inexpensive, healthy and versatile—are always a hit.

ADDRESSES

ACIO. Galeras, 28. Tel: 981 577 003 Santiago de Compostela. A Coruña. www.acio.es

AS GARZAS. Porto Barizo, 4º. Tfno. 981 721 765. Malpica. A Coruña www.asgarzas.com/contenido.php?idget=inicio

CASA ROMAN.  Pza de Galicia.  Tfno. 986 843 560. Pontevedra www.casa-roman.es

YAYO DAPORTA. Hospital, 7. Tfno. 986 526 062. Cambados. Pontevedra www.yayodaporta.com

TICKETS. Avda. Paral.lel. 164.  Tfno. 932 924 253. Barcelona www.es.bcn50.org

RIAS BAIXAS. República Argentina, 2, Tfno.986 223 041 Vigo, Pontevedra 

ARZAK. Alto de Miracruz. Tfno. 943 278 465. San Sebastián www.arzak.info/index.html

SACHA. Juan Hurtado de Mendoza, 11. Tfno. 913 455 952. Madrid.

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11/12/2014