………… so we spill out of our cars on Inishnee and haul our buckets onto the terrace outside the cottage’s kitchen. First we enjoy sorting the catch into species. We have 21 Pecten maximus, 67 Chlamys varia, 38 Ostrea edulis, 1 Crassostrea gigas, 31 assorted clams and about a gallon of Mytilus edulis.
Preparing shellfish is time-consuming. All the shells need to be scrubbed clean and the mussels and small scallops need particular attention as they are steamed in their shells. We shuck the king scallops carefully because the shells will we used for collections and garden edging. The assorted clams need to be halved carefully so the meat can be laid in half-shells to be grilled as ‘palourdes farcies‘.
Preparing the oysters is a veritable chore shared by Nick and Sonia. Forcing one’s way into an oyster via the ligament region requires teeth-gritting determination. It is a dangerous business. Nick is using his folding knife and delivers a wound to his finger when the knife snaps shut. (Note to self to include an oyster knife in my field trip kit-box). Fortunately first aid kids belonging to seasoned field archaeologists are on hand and special materials are applied and the cut heals without a murmur.
So what we did is we laid out platters of opened oysters to start. And we flash-grilled the small clams with a dressing of butter, parsley, garlic – this is ‘farci’ or stuffed clams. We had prepared, in advance, a liquor to steam our mussels ‘marinieres’ . We had also chased some bacon snippets round a pan ready to receive the steamed small scallops. And we had chopped garlic and root ginger to saute the king scallops.
We ate the oysters and clams and they were good. Then we steamed two large panfuls of mussels which we ate and they were good too. And then we cooked both kinds of scallops and they were very good indeed. We ate this delicious shellfish with Irish Soda bread, and we drank some wine.
This feast was real ‘degustation‘ . A French word which seems to have no direct English translation and is an altogether more pleasant experience than it sounds to the English ear. Degustation is a culinary term meaning a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods and focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company. Exactly so!
I’d like to leave it there but I should add a cautionary note. You cannot go to any shore and collect willy-nilly without a thought for the health of the shore and its waters. You need a fully marine environment which receives regular flushing with clean seawater. Collecting molluscs from the shore to eat, especially oysters and mussels which are filter feeders, has an element of risk. You cannot tell by looking at the shellfish, although your nose will be a useful indicator if something is amiss. Any bivalve that you collect should be able to ‘clam up’ if you try to pull the valves apart. Any bivalves that do not demonstrate the muscle-power to remain firmly closed before they are cooked should be discarded.
Get yourself a useful handbook such as The Edible Shore by John Wright. This is an invaluable guide to collecting a fabulous range of food from the seashore and there is plenty of helpful information to make sure you collect safely and responsibly. Caveat comedor!