Posts for Seafood
Monday 19th Aug 2013
One of the biggest modern food myths is that eating shellfish carries one of the highest risks of contracting food poisoning. In fact, according to the 2011/2012 Annual Report from the Chief Scientist for the Food Standards Agency, you’re more likely to get food poisoning from chicken than from shellfish*. As well as being blessed in the west coast of Scotland with pure, plankton-rich waters for shellfish growing, the strict monitoring of shellfish production, set out by EU food law, means that you can tuck into a bowl of Scottish mussels without any worries about food safety. Of course it also helps that the mussels find themselves in the capable hands of the Crannog chefs! Read on to find out more about the mussel’s journey from loch to lunch.
Rope grown mussels
The mussel fertilisation process takes place naturally in the waters all around Scotland. Once formed, the microscopic mussels then latch on to any surface they can find and set about the business of eating and growing. Traditionally they would settle and grow on the seabed and on rocks, which resulted in a potentially gritty eating experience and poor quality meats. Mussel farming has changed that for the better.
Farmers hang ropes into the water from floats on the surface. The mussels settle on this rope as naturally as they would on the seabed. It may sound simple but mussel farmers have spent years researching and developing the perfect rope to give each and every mussel space to grow and reach its full, juicy, plump potential. For us, it would be like the difference between staying in a two-man tent on a soggy campsite, or a penthouse suite in a 5 star hotel. The result of giving mussels a more comfortable home to grow in is that you get fat, grit-free mussels, which are bursting with pure flavour.
From loch to lunch
The mussels aren’t given any artificial feed: they eat the plankton that occurs naturally in the water, so the growing method is no different from non-farmed mussels. The main risk of contracting illness from any food, including shellfish, comes from bacteria. This is most likely to enter the mussel meat through the consumed plankton. Consequently, the first stage in ensuring that the mussels that reach the restaurant are of the highest quality is the regular testing of the water that mussels grow in, thus also testing the quality of the plankton. Every harvesting mussel farm in Scotland is visited and tested weekly by a Shellfish Sampling Officer. This means that if there is even a slight risk of algal toxins (naturally occurring toxins found in plankton), the mussels don’t leave the farm. This gives peace of mind to the mussel farmer, chef and customer alike.
The safety net doesn’t end there though. The weekly tests are cumulatively assessed to give each harvesting area a seasonal classification which reflects the potential bacteria levels in the water. Where necessary, after the approved shellfish have been harvested, mussel farmers then perform a cleansing procedure called depuration. Water from the loch is passed under UV light to sterilise it; the farmers then use the purified water to recreate the loch environment in tanks which the mussels live and feed in for a minimum of 42 hours. This process was really brought in to protect consumers of raw shellfish, such as oysters, but has been widely applied to all shellfish. The result of this extra step is that you could essentially eat a raw Scottish mussel and be sure that it was free of bacteria; that being said we wouldn’t recommend it – they’re certainly much tastier after our chefs have finished with them!
As well as elevating the flavours of our succulent west coast mussels, the cooking process is the final nail in the coffin for any potential nasties that might try and find their way into your tummy. The most effective way to cook mussels thoroughly, whilst still maintaining their texture and taste, is steaming. Our customers’ favourite tends to be mussels cooked classically in white wine, garlic and cream, so we keep that on our main menu all year round; but we also like to provide some variety on our Specials Board. You might find them steamed with cider and tarragon, or served in a shellfish bisque with surf clams, whelks, razor clams or langoustines. Another favourite is our recipe for chilli and pancetta mussels; click here to try it yourself.
The hard work of the mussel growers, along with the optimum growing environment we have here in Scotland, result in truly delicious mussels that we are proud to serve at Crannog Restaurant in Fort William.
What’s your favourite way of eating mussels? Is there anything you’d like to see featured on our Specials Board? Leave a comment to let us know.
*29% of all reported cases from poultry meat, compared to just 21% from shellfish.
Thursday 8th Aug 2013
Beside the water and surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery must be one of the most perfect settings for your special day. Our cruise boat and restaurant offer a unique combination of rustic charm and quiet sophistication to provide the unrivalled surroundings and venue for your day. Take a bespoke cruise to Loch Eil where vows can be said on deck under a back drop of Ben Nevis. Guests can then enjoy a few canapes or a buffet with bubbly onboard whilst cruising home.
Our wedding coordinator, Sarah-Louise, is friendly, informative and knowledgeable. She can suggest amazing menus using fresh local produce sourced from the sea or, alternatively, Scottish meats and vegetarian options – depending on you and your guests’ pallets. Here is just a sample of possible menus; Sarah-Louise would be delighted to help you choose something to suit your exact taste and budget.
Our wine list is well researched and varied; our wines have been specifically chosen to match our range of dishes, so, again, there is plenty to choose from. We are happy to accommodate your requirements and a copy of our current wine list can be found here. Sarah-Louise is available to discuss your needs, because we know that every bride’s requirement is different and she has some great ideas to help create that special day. If you would like to contact our wedding coordinator directly please contact Sarah-Louise.Pedersen@crannog.net
Read some of the lovely comments from past couples who have celebrated their wedding with Crannog here.
Were you married aboard Souters Lass? What made it especially perfect for you? Or, if you’re already married, leave any hints or tips below for anyone organising their wedding.
Tuesday 30th Jul 2013
We were recently featured in Seafood Business – a publication specifically for seafood buyers and sellers, with more than 30 years of experience.
“Diversifying business interests can be a clever strategy for when times get tough, though it is equally important not to spread yourself too thin. One seafood restaurant in the Scottish Highlands, The Crannog Restaurant, has attempted to strike a balance and forge a little empire on the shores of Loch Linnhe.
Located in a refurbished bait shed on the Fort William town pier, the restaurant has become the centerpiece of a business that began a quarter of a century ago with fishing. Local fisherman Finlay Finlayson was catching langoustines for sale in London when he came upon the idea of selling fresh seafood in town. He converted the old bait shed into a restaurant, and 24 years later the establishment is still going strong. An eye for an opportunity has continued to serve Finlayson well, for the restaurant now forms an integral part of the Crannog Concept business.
“The population here triples in the summer, so Finlay was aware of the tourism potential in the area,” says Olivia Gemmill, The Crannog Restaurant’s marketing and communication manager. “Lots of customers are now repeat customers, not just from Scotland and England, but from further afield.”
The secrets to the restaurant’s success, says Gemmill, are fairly straightforward: spectacular loch-side location and keeping things simple. The menu changes according to season and availability, while a specials board lists the fresh catch. “Our menu is often dictated by the fishermen,” she says. “But this need for flexibility is both a challenge and an opportunity; our chefs need to be creative!” The head chef at Crannog is local Stuart McLaughlin (Stewart MacLachlan), who served his apprenticeship at the restaurant before gaining experience abroad.
“We always try and source at a reasonable price, so sourcing is a major issue for us,” says Gemmill. “We are obviously affected by fishing quotas, but not to the same extent as other parts of the country. For example, serving cod is a big issue down south at the moment — it’s seen as a bad thing because of overfishing — but in the deep waters around here, cod is abundant.”
As the restaurant business began to take off in the early 1990s, Finlayson spotted another golden opportunity: operating cruises around the loch. He bought an old boat, revamped it and turned it into a viable tourist vessel. This has enabled the business to take further advantage of the natural environment, with visitors on the lookout for porpoises, seals and golden eagles.
The most recent expansion for Crannog Concept was the purchase in 2004 of an underwater training center in Fort William. The center is primarily used for health and safety training; Scotland has a booming offshore oil and gas sector. “We saw this as another excellent business opportunity,” says Gemmill. “The challenge, of course, is that the price of oil influences demand for our services, but unlike much of the rest of the U.K. economy, the oil and gas sector is booming This is certainly one advantage of diversifying our business practices.”
For the moment, the Crannog Concept, built around sustainably exploiting the opportunities provided by Fort William’s Loch-side location, is ticking along nicely. There are no immediate plans for further expansion, though Finlayson and his team always keep an eye out. “In summer we’re always full, so we could double the size of the restaurant; unfortunately it’s on a pier!” says Gemmill. “I think in the near future we’ll focus on more evening cruises, taking guests over to the next loch.”
Contributing Editor Anthony Fletcher lives in Brussels and you can read the full article on the Seafood Business website.