Störtebeker Mussels

by Elizabeth Atia -

Sometimes being inherently nosy pays off. For the last two weeks an Eriba touring caravan has been parked up on our village pier, towed behind a weathered old Landrover which definitely has stories to tell. Us locals have been eyeing it up with quiet, reserved curiosity.

The thing about living in a small rural village is that you can't help but bump into folk regularly. Conversations are struck in the most random of locations, over fences, while out walking up in the peat hill, or, the most popular location - the village shop.

Over the last fortnight our rural visitor has become a familiar face. We say hello, chat about the weather and tentatively get to know each other over the bakery aisle (he's rather fond of Hovis bread, something he can't get in his native Germany).

The other day he was looking for a thickener for a stew and his German-English translation wasn't coming up with the right word. It wasn't flour, it was something else - corn flour, we concluded after a brief discussion.

That's where my inherent nosiness came in.

"What are you making?" I had to ask.

"A stew," he replied, "with mussels, bacon, onion and mustard."

My ears perked up (I was sold at bacon and onion), and a few hours later I found myself sitting in a tiny one man caravan having my dinner cooked for me.

Retired automotive engineer and sea kayaking magazine editor Dieter Rosenberger has been visiting Scotland for over thirty years. As a child, the German version of Kidnapped by R.L. Stevenson used to be aired on television in a four part series over the Christmas period.

Filmed in Scotland, this tv program ignited a passion in Dieter for the Scottish landscape, and this is his sixteenth visit to the country.

After exploring most of mainland Scotland, the western isles and the outer Hebrides, Dieter turned his sights north. His first visit to Shetland was via the Norrona, 6 or 7 years ago, when the vessel still called into Lerwick en route from Denmark to Iceland.

Dieter used to do all of his travels with just a tent and a bicycle, but four years ago he bought a lightweight mini caravan - perfect for one person. It's completely self-sufficient, modified with solar panels, wi-fi and all the modern conveniences - fridge, gas cooker, heaters, etc.

He never stays at camp grounds, preferring to find a location he likes near the sea, and making it home for a few weeks. He's crazy for lifeboats, and where ever there is an RNLI station nearby he will always visit.

Staying in one location for awhile means that he gets to meet the locals, share skills and as a consequence more opportunities for adventuring present themselves. He prefers setting up camp at piers as they tend to have shower and toilet facilities nearby.

Dieter suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic debilitating disease of the spine, but this hasn't stopped him from travelling. He's had to give up sea kayaking and climbing, but he still has plenty of adventures.

"Life can be so short. I want to make my dreams come true now. I don't want to wait until tomorrow because tomorrow may never come."

As I sit in his caravan, flicking through photographs of his adventures in Iceland on his tablet, classic songs crooning on the wifi radio, Dieter begins cooking.

The recipe - Störtebeker Muscheln - Störtebeker mussels, a dish of fresh mussels, bacon, onion and plenty of mustard, developed in honour of the famous German pirate - Klaus Störtebeker.

Störtebeker was originally a privateer hired by the government during a war between Denmark and Sweden in the 14th century. He lead the Vitalienbrüder, a group of men tasked to fight the Danish and supply the besieged Swedish capital Stockholm with provisions.

After the war Störtebeker turned to piracy and became a sort of Swedish Robin Hood, robbing rich sea merchants and distributing the wealth.

Most mussel dishes involve serving the mussels still in their shells, but this dish is different. The mussels are first steamed open and the flesh is removed and added to a pan with butter, chopped onion and bacon.

Plenty of mustard is added for flavour along with a generous glug of beer. I'd brought along a bottle of White Wife from the Valhalla Ale Brewery in Unst (incidentally, Unst is Dieter's favourite Shetland island, so far!) and he used that, enjoying the rest with a cigarette while our dinner finished cooking.

While our dinner was cooking we could hear the twittering sound of the Arctic terns, or tirricks as they are called here in Shetland, as they fed in the water nearby. One tern had his eye on the men landing that day's mussel catch just a matter of metres away from us.

Some of these mussels were currently stewing over a gas fire for our dinner, while the rest would be processed that evening and would be on their way to fine London restaurants the following morning.

The recipe?

Absolutely delicious. The combination of mussels, bacon, onion and mustard worked splendidly - a dish fit for a privateer!

Störtebeker Mussels

Course: Main

Servings: 2 people

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
  • fresh mussels - 1 kg
  • onions - 2 small
  • butter - 1 tbsp
  • streaky bacon - 1 slice (or more, to taste)
  • beer - generous splash ((we used Valhalla Ale - White Wife))
  • cornflour - 1 tbsp (to thicken)
  • mustard - 2-3 tbsp (to taste)
Instructions
  1. Peel and quarter one of the onions and add to a pot along with the mussels and some salt water. Cook for 3-4 minutes, and discard any mussels which haven't opened.
  2. Remove the flesh from the mussels and add to a frying pan along with some butter, the remaining onion, finely chopped and the chopped bacon. Fry for one minute.
  3. Sprinkle with the cornflour and stir until combined. Add the mustard and a splash of beer, and continue to cook, adding more mustard if desired, until it thickens.
  4. Serve with bread to mop up the juices.
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