Whenever visiting France, mussels were always on my “must eat before I go home” list. We spent a winter one summer in St. Malo, Brittany and the strong, cold winds from the sea sharpened our appetites for the famous seafood platters, moules marinieres and cold white wine.
It was in St. Malo that a young German aristocrat mesmerized an entire restaurant by eating his mussels with a knife and fork. Beautifully! After he had finished his meal, the Brittany born and raised waitress kindly demonstrated the “correct” way to eat mussels.
First, choose a good looking, well shaped, medium sized mussel. Remove the meat, a fork is okay, and eat it. Now, using your empty mussel shell as a utensil, pinch the meat from the remaining mussels and consume with gusto! If the hinge of your utensil wears out and breaks while you are consuming your “mountain” of mussels, just choose another one. Be sure to talk, laugh and take large, meaningful sips of your wine or beer while eating, otherwise what’s the point?
Moules frites (mussels with fries) are served in restaurants all over France(July-November) and Belgium(September – April) during the season. The best places have tables set up outside and, if the weather is particularly hot, serve a good quality carafe of Rose wine. If you, unfortunately, find yourself in a tourist restaurant, decline the bib.
For today, I found a 2 kilos barquette or basket of mussels at Carrefour. These were pre-cleaned, scraped and ready to use. I like that.
Mussels Belle Epoque
2 kilos mussels, cleaned
1 leek, thinly sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1/2 tsp pepper
3 or 4 saffron threads
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 cups Belgian beer
Saute the leek, fennel, celery, shallots, pepper and saffron in the butter until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the mussels, cover and cook on high flame for 5 minutes. Stir the mussels and add the basil, beer and tomatoes, then cover and cook for another 3 minutes. Ladle the mussels into bowls with the cooking liquid.
Beverage suggestion: An Aligote from Burgundy or Belgian beer