Moules. Frites. Happy Bastille Day.
Maybe you associate moules frites with Belgium; I associate moules frites with France. I had moules frites at the very beginning of my semester abroad in France and it remains one of my favorite meals. I got to Nantes in August of 2003, during the summer of the grève des intermittents du spectacle. The week my sister and her husband visited from England on their way to Italy there was supposed to be a music festival, but since all the musicians were en grève there wasn't one. To our benefit, that didn't mean the food booths weren't going to set up. We wandered down to the river, the Erdre not the Loire, one afternoon and from one of the many booths decided on moules frites, but forewent the Muscadet. We sat at a picnic table next to the river and when the vendor brought us our moules frites she also brought three plastic cups, opened a bottle of Muscadet, and gave us each a very generous 'taste' of the local wine. The August sun, the river, the moules, the frites, the wine, the company: all reasons I love moules frites and all reasons I chose to mark Bastille Day with it.
For the moules I was correct in assuming that I need look to no one but Julia. Her recipe, which I give here, serves six to eight, but as I was only one I scaled it down. I was pleased to see that among her recommendations for wine to accompany the dish was Muscadet. For the frites, which were absolutely perfect (really), I followed the directions given on The One and Only Belgian Fries website. They don't specify what type of oil to fry them in, but after tonight I can highly recommend grapeseed oil.
Moules à la Marinière, I
- 2 cups of light, dry white wine or 1 cup dry vermouth
- 1/2 cup minced shallots, green onions, or onions (very fine)
- 8 parsley sprigs
- 1/2 bay leaf
- 1/4 tsp. thyme
- 1/8 tsp. pepper
- 6 Tbs. butter
- 6 quarts mussels, scrubbed and soaked
- 1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped
- Bring the wine to the boil in an 8- to 10-quart enameled kettle with the shallots, parsley sprigs, bay leaf, thyme, pepper, and butter. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes to evaporate its alcohol and to reduce its volume slightly
- Add the mussels to the kettle. Cover tightly and boil quickly over high heat. Frequently grasp the kettle with both hands, your thumbs clamped to the cover, and toss the mussels in the kettle with an up and down slightly jerky motion so the mussels will change levels and cook evenly. In about 5 minutes the shells will swing open and the mussels are done
- With a big skimmer, dip the mussels into wide soup plates. Allow the cooking liquid to settle for a moment so any sand will sink to the bottom. Then ladle the liquid over the mussels, sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.
Serve with frites or baguette and butter and chilled Muscadet.
I hope one day to eat moules frites on the banks of the Erdre again. Until then I will content myself with the occasional fix from my own kitchen.