|As a kid, back home in Norway, we used to play down by the shore line in the fjord. What a wonderful time! Norway has a short summer, so as soon as the water temperature climbed to above 60 degrees, we would put our swim suits on, and jump in.
One of my favorite water activities was skin-diving for mussels. They are called “Blaa skjell” in Norwegian. We would dive down 8-12 feet to pick them. Boy, did the water get cold down there! However the thrill and excitement made us determined to overcome that challenge. I guess there was some peer pressure to help us get down there too. If you did not come up with a handful of mussels, you were a “pyse” (whoos). Then when our lips was blue, and we was so cold that we got dizzy, we put our clothes on and built a fire with drift wood we collected. Then we filled a tin can half full of sea-weeds and some ocean water, and put it on the fire. That was going to be our “steam kettle”. Some times we had 3 or 4 going at the same time. The brackish water in the fjord was just perfectly salted for our primitive, outdoor culinary adventure. When the water was boiling, and the steam rose from the tin can, it was like the first victory in a battle. Then it was time to add the mussels. Great care had to be taken to avoid the can falling in to the fire. The mussels was put carefully on top of the bed of sea-weed. That kept them elevated above the water so they were steamed, not boiled. In order to contain the heat and steam, we covered the can with a broken plank or whatever we could find to function as a lid.
The cooking process took about 10-15 minutes, something that felt like an eternity for us kids, eager to sample our self harvested, culinary master piece. We stood around the fire, waving our hands to keep the smoke away from our eyes, and peeked in to the can to see if the shells had opened. We picked through them, and discarded any un-opened shells. We proudly looked at each other as we picked that succulent orange piece of mollusk out and sampled our catch, looking like wine tasters sampling a fine wine. Then sat back
on the sun warmed rocks, watching the seagulls coming closer in hopes we would share with them. This was a magical time in my life. Now I understand how lucky I was to have such “rich” child hood.
Every time I see steamed mussels on the menu in a restaurant, I will order it, attempting to refresh my wonderful child hood memories. I love mussels, but no preparation can make them taste as good as those straight of the fire. Perhaps it would, if we could replicate the ambience.
Chef Geir S. Kilen
|Steaming mussels over open fire....|