I do love a good food market. On our recent trip to Australia, we found ourselves in the Prahran market in Melbourne. It is the oldest market in Australia, although, of course, other markets are available.
The stalls heave with fruits and vegetables. There are butchers and fishmongers, organic stalls and delis, cafés and street food. There are specialist stalls for wine, coffee, tea, chocolate, ice cream, pasta, asian products, you name it.
If it weren’t for the Big Guy’s relatively low capacity for putting up with my geekery (well, we did manage to stay here a good couple of hours, so perhaps that is a little harsh…), I could stay in a place like this all day, wandering around, sampling the produce, chatting to people, and planning meals from all the things I found.
Instead, we purchased some items for a good lunch, and some more of the lovely summer fruits that were in season. These included some small pears, the name of which I forgot to note down, but they were delicious. Really sweet, and not at all grainy, like larger pears can sometimes be.
We also picked up a dozen Native Oysters. I first tried oysters about ten years ago, when I shared a dozen with a boy I was trying to impress (this was about a year before I met the Big Guy). My love of oysters has lasted far longer than that particular infatuation!
I enjoy oysters from all over the globe, especially when I happen to find some on a beach forage. But Native Oysters are really the best, as they are creamier and meatier than their North Sea counterpart. I prefer them raw as opposed to grilled with a topping, like in Oysters Rockerfeller, or Kilpatrick. I just feel that this is gilding the lily, and something this good does not really need embellishment further than a squeeze of lemon, or a splash of champagne, if you want to push the boat out!
I have already mentioned the importance of checking out your seafood before you buy it. Our oceans are a precious resource, and currently, they are being exploited horribly, with no real eye to the future of fish stocks, or the fishing industry itself. Damaging catch methods are putting species at risk, as well as destroying the habitat where they live and breed, and catching fish and sea mammals that were not the intended catch, meaning that they are thrown back, often dead or dying. It is so important to make sure that you are not adding to the problem and supporting these practices by eating unsustainably harvested fish.
Luckily, like a lot of shellfish (but not all), the oysters are sustainably managed and harvested. As are the Blue Mussels that we also picked up, along with the rest of the ingredients for this tasty little lunch:
Recipe: Mussels Pasta
1 kg mussels
Glass of white wine
1 garlic clove, minced with a little salt
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
A little oil for frying
Juice and zest of one lemon
Bunch chervil, finely chopped
Bunch tarragon, leaves removed from stalks and finely chopped
Bunch parsley, finely chopped
2 serves linguine, fresh from the Pasta Shop, if you are in Melbourne
Prepare the mussels. Remove the “beard”, which is the green fibrous stuff at the pointy end, it will come away if you tug it. Of course, with any shellfish, you need to be sure that you are getting them alive. If any of the shells are cracked, then discard them. I hate waste, but not even I will mess with this one, because dead mussels decay quickly, and you risk a nasty case of food poisoning. If any of the shells are open, give them a sharp tap on the counter. If they do not close, then discard them. Give them all a good rinse, to eliminate any grit, but don’t leave them soaking in fresh water, because they may die.
Prepare the herbs, lemon, chilli and garlic. If you have dried pasta, you will need to get this going now, and cook according to packet instructions. Get it to the point where it has five minutes left to cook before you move onto the mussels.
We got fresh pasta from the Pasta Shop in the market, if you are using fresh pasta, just get the pot of salted water on a rolling boil. It is fine to cheat, and boil the water in a kettle beforehand.
Heat a little oil in a large pan, and fry the garlic and chilli in it for a couple of minutes, until the scent fills the air. Add the mussels, wine lemon juice, herbs and zest to the pan. Cover and allow to cook.
If you are using fresh pasta, then add it to the boiling water now.
When the pasta (either variety) is finished, drain, but keep some of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the mussels, which should mostly all be open by now. Give it a good stir around for a minute or two on the hob. If the mixture is dry, add some of the pasta water, although I would try to avoid this if possible. The liquor in the pan is aniseedy and soupy from the herbs, and you risk diluting its delicate flavour.
Have a quick check for any mussels that have not opened. There is some debate as to whether these are safe to eat, but I really think that the risk is not worth it. I recommend that you discard any unopened mussels.
Serve in deep bowls, making sure that you get a good ladleful of the herby juice in each bowl.