Newlyn Mussels

In what has become a holiday tradition, we took the hour-long drive down to Newlyn to buy shellfish from the harbour wall. The Newlyn fishmongers are the real deal; there is no fuss, just glistening fresh north Atlantic fish presented on slabs of ice. Turbot, sole, whiting, mackerel, monkfish, scallops, mussels, crabs (spider and brown), little tiny prawns, lobster, dab… I would have happily taken home the lot. Even better, the prices are cheaper than in Brum, which I suppose is what you’d expect given that the fishing boats land 100m away.

We bought a kilo of mussels, filthy with seaweed. They needed a good soak and a lengthy pick with a small knife to loosen off the beards and general detritus. But cleaned up, these were the king of mussels, fat and full.

I steamed them open in white wine, garlic and shallots, then finished the sauce with a handful of parsley and a dollop of clotted cream. We mopped up the sauce with crusty sourdough, bought from a tiny deli near Newlyn Art Gallery. To finish, new season cherries and strawberries.

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Newlyn mussels

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New season strawberries and cherries

Newlyn Mussels

Butter

Olive oil

1 kilo mussels, thoroughly cleaned

1 shallot, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Dry white wine, about a wine-glass full

Clotted cream, about a tablespoon

Flat-leaf parsley, a good handful

In a wide-lidded frying pan or saucepan, melt a knob of butter with the olive oil on a medium heat. When frothing, add the shallot and soften for a minute or two. Add the garlic and cook until the scent rises – about 20 seconds. Toss in the mussels with the white wine, give the pan a shake, then cover and leave to cook. The mussels will open in the steam, it usually takes about 3 or 4 minutes. When nearly done, dollop in the cream and the parsley and shake to combine. Cook for a minute more, then serve. Good crusty bread is essential to mop up the juices.

Holiday crab linguine

To Lamorna, home of the Lamorna artists Laura and Harold Knight and AJ Munnings, and perhaps one of the more ruggedly evocative stretches of coastline in Cornwall.

Laura Knight is a personal art-hero. She was the first female artist to become a Royal Academician, the first to have her own exhibition at the RA, the only British artist to win official commissions as war artist in WW1 and WW2. I thought that she was the first woman to have a self-portrait at the National Portrait Gallery but I can’t verify that. She also spent her later years in Colwall so I like to think she was a fan of Malvern water. There is something so brilliantly bohemian about succeeding as a woman artist in the 1920s and 1930s, a time when female freedom was for most a dream rather than a reality.

It is easy to understand why artists congregated to Larmorna. This is a wild pre-historic landscape, set away from the rest of the world. Vast monoliths of rock seem to be carved with ancient faces, and the bracken appeared burnished against the October sun.

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Outstanding rocks

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Looking out to sea

 

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Autumn hedgerow

Food Bingo update: Crab has been struck off the list. We took a wrong-turn around Newlyn and ended up at the quayside, where you can still buy slabs of fish pretty much directly off the boat. Having grown up in land-locked Tamworth Matt is an expert crab picker (really) so chose the biggest, ugliest one to take home.

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£6.50 of fresh crab

 

Meanwhile I regaled stories of the 1896 Newlyn Fish Riot, in which the local fishing population were so outraged by outsiders (i.e. the non-Cornish) taking their boats out on Sunday, the day of rest, that a full blown riot ensued. They are God-fearing people around these parts – plus fish landed on the Sabbath reached a better price at market. Fishing boats were seized, 100,000 mackerel chucked overboard and the fish wives beat the interlopers up with haddock. (I may have embellished the last point, but the fish wives were definitely involved.) Which begs the question, is it better to be bashed with a stiff fresh haddock, or a floppy stinky one?

For dinner, holiday crab linguine, for two:

In a large pan, sweat a fat clove of garlic and finely chopped red chilli, to taste, in olive oil and butter.

Add one large chopped tomato and a good dollop of brown and white crabmeat and heat through – the intention is to warm rather than cook. Squeeze in lemon juice and season.

Pile cooked linguine on top and fork through the crab mixture, alongside a good handful of chopped herbs (parsley, Greek basil) and check the seasoning. You might need an extra glug of pasta water to get everything sticking together.

Serve. No parmesan needed.