By Doreen Leggett
David and Nina Bennett of Eastham attended their first Meet the Fleet at the Fishermen’s Alliance and heard first-hand about Chatham’s mussel fishery and how Jeremiah Reardon, chef and owner at Red River Barbeque, had prepared the evening’s tasting – Mussels with Smoked Texas Sausage.
“Fascinating,” said Nina. “I learned so much.”
The two found themselves at the back of an 85-person line, hurrying to grab a sample and take a bag of Chatham Light Mussels home to cook.
“I learned, don’t sit by the front because you’ll be the last to get out,” she added, laughing.
The Bennetts needn’t have worried as there were plenty of mussel-filled bowls for those who gathered for the first in-person Meet the Fleet of the season on Wednesday, April 26. An earlier event, held over Zoom, featured monkfish.
Reardon, a Cape Cod native who trained under famed chef Wolfgang Puck, was greeted by whistles and calls as he talked about his new business in Harwich, which is, for the moment, focused on meat. He expects to add more seafood.
“I definitely would like to be using more of Jesse’s stuff,” Reardon said.
Jesse is Jesse Rose, new owner of Chatham Light Mussels and a longtime commercial fisherman. He and his wife Abby are well-known through his other business, Midnight Our, also the name of one of his boats, which sells scallops to sea foodies in several locations, including Wychmere Harbor. Rose plans to sell his mussels alongside; that the tasty bivalve would be available at Farmers Markets and retail shops was music to the crowd’s ears.
Rose walked the crowd through a typical day on the water. He is often in sight of shore off Chatham Light in his vessel, Wide Load – “it’s a cute little thing.” The work is quick. They can fill a dredge, 600 mussels, in under a minute.
“It’s a three-foot box dredge. It rides flat on the bottom, like a car,” said Rose.
They can get their 100-bushel limit in three hours. Although Rose is relatively new to musseling, with much experience in other fisheries, the industry is longstanding.
“There has been a history in Chatham forever,” Rose said.
The mussels Rose brought to Meet the Fleet were not taken near the Lighthouse, the area closed because of an outbreak of red tide.
Audience members asked a number of questions, including if Rose had ever caught anything out of the ordinary.
“I’ve been looking for treasure all my life,” he said to laughter. “I caught a Go-Pro once.”
The audience was also full of questions for Reardon:
Can you use beer instead of wine to cook?
Yeah! You can do drunken mussels.
What kind of fish is good for fish stock?
Sole, flounder, hake, black sea bass.
One audience member got tips on how to take the mussels’ beards off; he has been using pliers and figures there has to be an easier way. Reardon said using a towel like sandpaper works well.
Reardon explained the mussels he got from Rose were beardless and purged, without grit and sand.
“The mussels he brought me were very, very clean,” Reardon said. “Jesse has a really ingenious way of doing it.”
Rose said Chatham has extremely tasty mussels. Unlike mussels from Prince Edward Island that are grown on lines in the water column, Chatham’s mussels are a natural set. That means a lot more prep work.
The work starts on the boat, rinsing and tumbling, and he has invested in new equipment in his shop that further cleans and debeards them, making them more marketable.
One of the fun facts, or biology breaks, of this Meet the Fleet focused on those beards, or “byssal threads.”
Melissa Sanderson, chief operating officer of the Fishermen’s Alliance, told the audience the threads allow the mussels to secure themselves to a solid surface. They are then able to protect themselves from predators and not get pushed around by waves.
The threads can be compared to human tendons, created by proteins secreted by the foot of the mussel, said Sanderson, adding that the shellfish can make one in a few minutes. She said medical professionals are jealous of the “glue” mussels secrete because it hardens in water and would be extremely useful for mending broken bones.
Mussels are also chockful of vitamins.
“Mussels have more iron than steak,” said Sanderson.
“They are much more nutritious than I thought,” added David Bennett.
Meet the Fleet is also supported by a Saltonstall Kennedy Award, which is funding creating videos of events.