With food costs ever-rising, and with each of us taking more care about choosing responsibly in the supermarket, it can be a challenge to find nutritious, high protein foods that are also sustainable.
Saldanha Bay is a large, sheltered bay on the Cape west coast about a 90 minute drive north of Cape Town. Farming in the sea, also known as aquaculture, is the practice of rearing water creatures for food and is different from fishing or foraging in that it is practiced with a strong focus on renewing the farming resource, and protecting the environment that supports the aqua farm.
Mussels and Oysters are known as bivalve molluscs, or shellfish that have two opposing shells that open and close to allow the creature inside to eat and breathe. That creature on the inside is the meaty, delicious bit that we eat – either cooked or raw – which is high in omega 3’s, protein, and other minerals such as B12 and selenium.
Although mussels and oysters are cousins, they have very different life cycles.
In South African ocean waters you will find two species of mussels – the Mediterranean mussel (with the familiar orange or white flesh) and the South African mussels, that has a darker, brown flesh. Both are just as delicious, but the South African mussels sometimes requires a few minutes extra cooking time. Mussels will grow spontaneously on almost any surface – I’m sure you’ve seen them growing on rocks and jetties? At the mussel farm, floating rafts are anchored in the bay, with 6m lines of rope hanging down into the water. All that is needed to collect the mussels, is to pull of the rope, strip off the mussels, rinse them with sea water and send them back to the factory for packaging. Mussels reach the ideal size, about 8cm, within one year and are ready to be harvested.
The oysters, predictably, need a little more care and nurture. Oysters are grown from ‘seed’ which are tiny, baby oysters about the size of a grain of rice. The oyster babies are put into cages, that are submerged about 2m under the water, anchored to a long line. At various intervals of 45 to 60 days, the cages are raised for inspection and to check on the little oyster babas. As they grow, they are graded by size, and reloaded into enclosures that are larger and larger.
A medium size oyster that you might expect to have served to you in a restaurant, would have been in the ocean growing for about 10-12 months. Extra large oysters are farmed for up to 18 months.
At the Saldanha Bay farms, no products are added to water. Only the infrastructure, such as rafts and ropes are installed, to provide the ideal environment for the molluscs to naturally make their home. For both the mussels and the oysters, all that they need to grow and reproduce, is available right there in the water. Each tide brings in fresh waters from the ocean, filled with nutrients and oxygen, keeping the molluscs happy!
Storing, cooking and serving
Oysters and mussels are harvested early every morning, depending on the weather and sea conditions. Freshness is key here – but did you know that live mussels and oysters can be refrigerated for up to 4 days? Sea water samples are tested on a regular basis to check for algae blooms, also known as red tides. Algal bloom does not harm the molluscs, but the toxins present in the flesh of themussel and oyster are not safe for human consumption.
Oysters are of course, best served chilled and raw. The flesh is a medium texture that is smooth, and has a salty taste like fresh sea water, with a sweeter flavour at the end. Enjoy oysters however you prefer – they are excellent with fresh lemon, black pepper and maybe a little bit of chilli. They are also delicious with a sweet and spicy vinaigrette dressing and best followed by ice cold sparkling wine or beer!
If you have bought live mussels – that is the fresh, closed shells – then the easiest way to prepare them is to steam them with a little flavoured liquid, butter and fresh herbs. We love them with garlic, butter and parsley and served with chunks of baguette to catch all the delicious sauce.
A special thank you for hosting us in Saldanha Bay to Wild Peacock Products, the exclusive supplier to the restaurant industry of products from Blue Ocean Mussels and Saldanha Bay Oyster Company.
You can order live mussels, delivered straight to your home!