Home > Ethical Consumption, Food, Provenance, Travel, Wine > De Wetshof “The Site” Chardonnay and white sand mussel chowder

De Wetshof “The Site” Chardonnay and white sand mussel chowder

Preparation Time: 60 minutes Cooking Time: 45 minutes Yield: 4

White sand mussel chowder paired with Danie De Wet's fabulous 2009 "The Site" Single Vineyard Chardonnay

A recent holiday in Knysna found me on the beach at Brenton-on-Sea in search of white sand mussels. Commonly used for bait by fishermen all the way along our coastline, I’ve often wondered what sort of chowder they would make.

I’d taken a bottle of Danie De Wets’ 2009 “The Site” Chardonnay on holiday with me (along with a whole bunch of other wines, naturally!) and I had this plan to pair a white sand mussel chowder, made with crème fraiche, with this single vineyard Chardonnay. More about the wine and how it paired with the chowder later on.

Whereas clams are relatively difficult to come by and quite expensive, white sand mussels can be caught fresh, provided of course you have a license. A visit to your local post office with your ID book and the requisite fee of R60 will scare loose a mollusc license which will allow you to collect a wide variety of sea critters, including but not limited to oysters, mussels, octopus, squid, prawns, periwinkles and the like.

Be aware that there are bag limits, minimum sizes, and in some cases limited seasons, as well as bans on collecting in a number of coastal areas. You may sell or barter nothing that you catch.

You may only use your bare hands and feet, or an implement “with a blade or flat edge, not exceeding 12mm in width”. I was mystified as to what such an implement might look like, the only option that came to mind being something like a dinner knife, so I resorted to hands and feet.

The bag limit for white sand mussels is 50 per day, and they must be over 35mm in length, measured in the length, rather than the width of the shell. Rather than carry a ruler with you, measure 35mm on your forearm, and mark clearly with a pen. That way, you can check that the mussels you catch are legit.

You can catch them at any stage in the tide, since they occupy the littoral zone, the part of the beach between high water and low water.

Look for a reasonably steep sloping part of the beach, and pick a spot between the high point and low point of the waves.

Wait for the water to run back after a wave, and literally do the twist: rotate your feet backwards and forwards and dig them down into the sand. If there are mussels about, you’ll feel something hard under your foot. Reach down smartly and grab the mussel before it escapes. They do move quite quickly under the sand, so don’t hang around. Of course, it is inevitable, that you’ll feel a monster under your foot, just as the next wave comes rushing up the beach, and you will be drenched as you reach down under the sand to grab it. (Now, was that Murphy’s Law, or Sod’s Law?)

If you don’t find anything in a particular spot of beach, move on. If you do, concentrate on that spot. They tend to live in colonies. I tend to collect the larger mussels, and once I have my bag limit, I’ll return to the sea smaller mussels which I will replace with larger ones I catch. Give them a good rinse in the sea water before putting them into your batch bag, to eliminate as much sand as possible.

Don’t be tempted to keep more than your bag limit, and in any case, only take out as many as you need. A two person chowder requires only about 20 mussels.

This recipe is based on my original clam chowder recipe of September 2007.

Ingredients, Selection and Preparation

2 medium white onions: finely chopped

350ml fish stock: chicken stock will also do

3 medium potatoes: peeled and diced

30-50 fresh white sand mussels: soak in fresh water for an hour, draining every 15 minutes

250ml crème fraiche

sprig of thyme: leaves picked

2tbsp parsley: chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Ingredient Selection and Preparation


Set a large saucepan on the stove with about 1.5cm of water to boil.

Heat a 2tbsp of canola oil in a soup pot and add the onions. Sweat the onions until soft and translucent. Do not let them brown.

Add the stock, diced potato, thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer covered for fifteen minutes or until the potato has cooked soft.

Your water should be boiling by now. Drain the mussels, and put in the pot with the lid on. Bring to the boil, and boil for about three minutes, shaking the pot briskly every minute or so, until all of the mussels have opened, then remove from the heat.

Remove the mussels from the saucepan, and set them aside to cool.

Return the saucepan to the heat, and turn it up high. Shuck the mussels, and return the shells to the boiling liquid in the saucepan.

Boil the cooking liquid down to about 1/3rd of its original volume, but no more than 250ml. Strain through a fine sieve or muslin to remove any sand, and set aside.

Cleaning white sand mussels - squeeze out the digestive tract, together with the gritty contents, then rinse under cold running water

The mussels need to be cleaned, by removing the digestive tract. Grasp each mussel end on end, and gently squeeze the middle portion out and discard it (see picture). Rinse thoroughly under running water.

By now the potato should have cooked soft, so add the mussels, the 250ml clam cooking liquid and the crème fraiche. Heat through for a couple of minutes only. Any longer and the mussels will toughen.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in soup bowls, sprinkled with some chopped parsley. Lovely hot breads make a tasty accompaniment.

So, how does the wine go with the food?

Danie de Wet’s 2009 The Site Chardonnay comes from a vineyard planted in 1987, with the Burgundian clone 119, developed at the University of Dijon. The only vineyard in South Africa producing wine from this clone, it originates from one of the greatest white wine regions in the world – Burgundy.

Pale straw in colour, the wine offers citrus aromas with nutty and honey notes.

In the mouth, the acidity is crisp and fresh, supported by Royal Gala apple and lemon flavours, which work well with the slight tang of the crème fraiche.

The mid-palate is consistent, underpinned by a lean mineral edge, and the finish lingers.

A balanced and crisply elegant wine, with a sumptuous mouth feel, afforded by 11 months in first and second fill French oak barrels.

The recipe deliberately excludes bacon, which would otherwise add a smokiness that would conflict with the crisp clean elegance of The Site Chardonnay.

  1. Elana Rabinowitz
    June 28, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Hi Norman
    I was trying to print your recipe on chicken breast with harissa past which you posted on Crush, but there appears to be an error in the file and it wont comply!
    Would you please be so kind as to email it to me?
    Many thanks
    Elana Rabinowitz

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