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Mu mu mu ... Musselfest

We love simple food here in our home, and by simple, I don't mean cheap and easy. Although, we wont turn our noses up at a good homemade mac and cheese. When I say 'simple' I mean that you can look at what you are eating and know the ingredients. If possible, local ingredients. Added bonus if we grew them ourselves or were able to pick or catch them in the wild. One of the many reasons we love living here is the abundance of wild edible plants and animals. There isn't much, other than some mushrooms, that is actually poisonous in this area, so you are generally safe when harvesting.

Like I said, it is an added bonus if we can grow or raise the ingredients ourselves... like our eggs. Our chickens and ducks are pets that happen to take scraps and convert them into tasty butt nuggets. (We haven't progressed into raising birds for meat.) Because our birds are filling their bellies with kitchen scraps, bits of beef fat, garden grubs, worms and larvae in dead wood, shellfish shells and guts, and the regular chicken crumble; their eggs are wonderful. Not only can you taste the difference in the richness, but you can physically see it. The yolks are a warm orange yellow like the setting sun. Not the pale high noon sun of a store bought egg. When we throw our left over shrimp shells and crab guts to the flock, their yolks turn a deep rust orange.

The egg, is simple. Pair it with a piece of toast and it is perfect. Or boil it up and sprinkle with salt... mmmmm. Good ingredients make good food, and that is what I mean when I say simple.

The area we live in not only has an abundance of wild food and fertile soils for farming, it has a large amount of tasty and readily available seafood. Five minutes from our house is the best place to cast a line to catch salmon from shore, or to drop a crab pot and enjoy the buttery goodness of a Dungeness Crab. With a little bit of work, and a do mean very little, you can find and abundance of oysters, clams, mussels, and in some areas the mammoth Geoduck. (Yes... I realize it doesn't look all that appetizing... but... it is)

Geoduck Clam

Oh, and before I go on, there is also all of the delicious seaweeds, bull kelp, and Sea Beans, along with the hundreds of other things that grow in the tidal zone or at the edge of the water.

This weekend we went to Musselfest in Coupeville; a celebration of all things having to do with the famous Penn Cove Mussel. We didn't partake of the chowder tasting or some of the other festivities, but we did take a boat tour through the mussel farms. Cool facts we learned about the mussel farm, they are not seeded. Instead, the 'farmers' wait till a certain time in the year (April first) then they drop long lines hanging from the rafts. The wild mussels have already ejected their sperm and eggs out into the surrounding waters, and the 'Spat' (essentially baby mussels) are floating around looking for something to attach to. As they grow, they are thinned out so there is not overcrowding.

Our boat tour

There really is very few predators (other than a duck or to) and the mussels need almost no tending. Due to the nature of how the lines are hanging in the water, and since they stay fully submerged, it takes only 12-14 months for the mussels to grow to full size. (those in tidal zones can take a few years) Due to the unique geography near Coupeville, the mussels are able to get extra fat in that short time. The Skagit River dumps silt and nutrients from the mountains into the bay, which is then mixed with the sea water from the Pacific. Penn Cove is protected from rough waters and industrial run off.

Harbor Seals resting on a raft

Mussels are one of those things that seem to grow every where around the world. You have fresh water, salt water, deep water, tidal ones, ones that are good for eating, others are nuisances. With them being so pervasive it isn't too much of a surprise that we have come across big heaping bowls of mussels ready for eating. Whether it is in a gumbo, chowder, resting on a cracker, dredged in garlic, bathing in cioppino or steamed .... we love them.

After our little boat tour we headed over to Front Street Grille and we each ordered up a pound of steamed mussels. Paul had a 'Rockefeller' version, and I had a 'Thai Peanut' version. It sparked a talk about our favorite preparation methods, and where we have had them. In France it was with white wine, in Belgium it was with Frites (fries) and a trappist beer. In the southern states I had it in a seafood gumbo.

Paul's new favorite way of preparation is the Rockefeller, which uses bacon, shallots, green onion, garlic, and cream to bring out the richness. Mine is versions of a kind that is found in the San Juan Islands (my home). It uses garlic, shallots, butter, and white wine. To make it really taste like home, a bit of saffron and a splash of sea water. That splash of sea water reminds you that it is something of the sea. It is mineral and earthy. Fresh, yet metallic (in a good way). While I cook them on the stove now, I grew up with this being something you do over the campfire, and a splash of the sea naturally finds its way in there.

The recipe is simple, notice that most of it is approximations, you really have to do this to your own taste, and the best taste is from over a campfire.


  • 1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded

  • 2 pads of butter

  • 1-3 garlic cloves minced or chopped

  • 1 cup white wine

  • 2 tbs half and half or Jersey Milk Full Fat cream

  • 1/2 cup fresh sea water

  • 1 tsp Saffron threads

  • 1 shallot sliced

  • 4 green onions chopped


Melt the butter in a large pot, saute the garlic and shallot for about 1 minute till it is fragrant. Add the wine, cream, and saffron. Simmer for a few minutes. (about 5). Add the sea water, stir till it is mixed.

Add the mussels, cover, steam for 5-7 minutes or until they are open. Discard any mussels that do not open. Shake the pot and scoop broth from the bottom and pour over the top of the mussels. Garnish with green onions.

I would be remiss if I didn't also include these recipes if you want to try a different version.

San Juan Island Local Inn - Tucker House Inn

Ina Garten - Mussels in White Wine

And, because I love to try different broths and bases

Steamed Mussels with Coconut Milk and Thai Chilis

Coconut Curry Mussels

To find out more about Musselfest and the Penn Cove Mussels, go to: Musselfest

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