MUSSEL BEACH PARTY. Collectors brave Oregon coast storm in search of the elusive mussel
Cannon Beach, Ore.
WE knew we would be moving from the Oregon coast soon, and that made it seem imperative to gather one last batch of Silver Point mussels. It was only October, but winter was beginning to taint the winds with its chill. The ocean swells were ragged and unpredictable from the storms at sea.
Unfortunately, the only tides that would be low enough for collecting mussels occurred late at night, and a storm was predicted.
Yet, when it came to a decision, the promise of mussel fettuccine well outweighed our fear of the possibility of stormy weather and waves.
We decided to go.
Bundled in wool sweaters, rain gear, and rubber boots, and armed with flashlights and mussel gathering equipment - bucket, scraper, and trowel - we set off on our fat-tired beach bikes for Silver Point.
In spite of the storm warnings, the air was surprisingly calm. As we approached the dark, looming rock shapes, the clouds parted, revealing a bright, gibbous moon. With the moonlight reflecting off the ocean and the wet, mirrorlike sand, our flashlights proved unnecessary.
Recent storms had completely rearranged the sand and tide pools that surrounded the many rocks.
Some pools had disappeared altogether. Others, including the one surrounding our favorite mussel rock, had deepened considerably.
The ocean was wild.
It hissed and hurled in and out of the deep pools. Every now and then the water became mysteriously quiet. A very large wave would glide swiftly way, way in, forcing us to jump from the rocks and run for safety.
Since our favorite rock was inaccessible - and the others either had no mussels or were also surrounded by deep pools - we almost gave up the search. But one last inspection revealed a large population of mussels clinging to the underside of a rock that, with care, we could reach.
We worked fast. We wanted to avoid having our boots swamped by the waves that rushed in so quickly and quietly. We tugged and yanked at the mussels barehanded. Counting as we collected, we dropped them into our bucket.
In the soft light of the moon, the dark mollusks appeared as violet, tear-shaped shadows. The chalky-sounding rattle of their shells, knocking against each other in the bucket, and the hissing of the waves combined to form a salty rhythm.
When we had reached our goal of 30 mussels, we made one last dash from the clutching waves. With the moon shining on our backs, we rode silently down the long stretch of beach for home, where a warm fire awaited us. Silver Point Mussel Fettuccine About 30 fresh mussels (3 to 4 inches in shell) 1 recipe Garlic White Sauce (see below) Approximately 16 ounces fettuccine noodles, cooked al dente
(Remember, al dente means firm to the bite, chewy, not limp and without substance.)
To prepare mussels: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add mussels, and cook until shells are well opened, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove from water, cool, open shells, and remove mussel, disconnecting it from the tiny white, scallop-like posterior muscle clinging to inside shell. Remove stringy beard and tonguelike protuberance that exposes the stomach, with greenish contents that may be discarded or not.
If it's necessary to remove any grit, rinse mussels under cold water. Any tiny, rock-like pearls may be removed with tweezers.
Garlic White Sauce 3 tablespoons sweet butter 3 tablespoons white flour 2 cups hot milk, scalded but not boiled 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, ground Pinch of cayenne pepper Pinch of nutmeg 1 clove garlic, minced
Melt butter in heavy saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and add flour, mixing well with wire whisk. Return to low heat. Add hot milk gradually, mixing well after each addition. Stir and cook over low heat until thick. Add seasonings and adjust to taste.
Add mussels to white sauce. Serve sauce over prepared noodles. Garnish with fresh chives. Serves 3 to 4.