At the beginning of the year I become aware that our regular meal of farmed salmon was not, as I had thought, better for the environment than eating sea-caught fish.   It seems that our supermarket salmon ate huge amounts of little fish, caught at sea by factory ships and processed into fish food.  Not to mention polluting waterways and possible promulgation of disease.   All this time we had been unwittingly contributing to poor outcomes for sea environments!

This rocked my world, so I spent an afternoon interrogating the MSC website to see what we could responsibly eat without contributing to the collapse of a population, destroying a habitat or ingesting too many pollutants ourselves.  

The answer is mussels farmed in clean waters around our coast.  If you apply strict criteria, as I did, the MSC actually only gives a green light to two things: line-caught mackerel from the southwest of England and rope-grown mussels. 

Mussels even have the potential to be carbon negative because they fix carbon in their shells.  So we’re eating mussels instead of salmon these days.     

Our supermarket sells live mussels in 1kg boxes and we’ve found them to be universally excellent.   I am convinced that any negative reviews are due to an impatience in preparation.   I consulted Rick Stein’s advice on preparation and this is what gets the best results at our house:

  • Cover all the fresh mussels with water.  Give all the open mussels a sharp little squeeze to prompt them to close.  They close quite slowly.  It isn’t the closedness you are wanting, as such, but the fact that they are alive.  The ability to close, or be closed, is the indicator of a live mussel.
  • Wait a few minutes and then start sorting out the closed mussels.  It’s easiest to move the ‘approved’ mussels into a separate bowl of water.  Give an extra squeeze to the still-open shells and keep waiting and sorting as they close.
  • Discard any with broken shells and any still open in the original bowl after 10-15 minutes.  Debeard the approved mussels as necessary. 

When I’m ready to cook, I fry crushed garlic in butter on medium-high heat, then tip in the drained mussels together with the juice of half a lemon and cover immediately.  Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, for 3-4 minutes until the majority of shells are open and the mussels look cooked.  We eat ours immediately with potato wedges.

We have mussels about once a fortnight in season, and mackerel on alternate weeks.   I must admit though, smoked salmon is still a birthday and Christmas treat!

I haven’t yet done any research into organic trout farming to see whether their feed stocks are properly sustainable.  I’d be interested to know what the industry thinks. 

Text and Images (C) Claire @theslowfix A slow food devotee, Claire is constantly searching for new ways to enable us all to live sustainably.

The Slow Food blog welcomes contributions on the topics of Food, Farming and Agriculture. The contents may not entirely match the views of Slow Food, but reflect the journeys of the authors. To write for us please click here