Moules Frites at Home
Mussels are one of the easiest, healthiest, sustainable and economical ways of enjoying a bistro dinner at home. To tell the truth, I’m often disappointed by the mussels in restaurants. So often the essential bath of broth seems separate from the mussels. Too often, cooks add too much butter, taking away from the refreshing taste of the sea. I like classic preparations, like Rive Bistro’s moules, pictured above. You can see how parts of the sauce catch in the shells, to flavor each mussel. Here’s the piece I wrote about Rive Bistro in Westport, CT for the Hartford Courant.
As a restaurant critic I’ve had to endure abominations like mussels in gorgonzola sauce. It’s the kind of dish people say, “It was really okay,” but really it’s not.
Writing about beer for Yankee Brew Magazine brought me to Mikro, a beer bar in Hamden, CT, where I had a memorable mussels dish in a very good way. They use Belgian witbier, with its notes of coriander and orange peel, and orange juice, garlic, chili, thyme and parsley.
Mikro’s mussels were the jumping off point for the best mussels I’ve ever made at home.
They were the pinnacle of steamed mussels, tender and briny, in a sauce that balanced sweetness of orange, herbs and spices and bite and depth of good beer. Here’s how I did it:
I bought a bag of freshly harvested mussels at Food Bazaar in Bridgeport, an awesome source for international foods and whole fish. It cost $4 for the pound. Feeds two hearty appetites for dinner or four as an appetizer.
I happened to be writing an article about Belgian beer, and my husband and I were drinking a crisp, delicious dry Dupont Saison. So I used the saison in the mussels. A tart Leipziger Gose, brewed with coriander and salt, would have worked too — but in the name of research and deadlines, we’d savored the bottle the night before.
Prep the mise. Slice one large onion into strips you image catching in the mussel shells. Slice a clove of garlic, mince a tablespoon of fresh ginger. Chop about a cup of fresh cilantro (or fresh herb you love.) Squeeze two sweet, juicy Clementines, and add beer to reach half cup.
Caramelize onions over low heat, in a little olive oil, and sprinkle salt over the onions. Stir and watch over them to brown evenly (and don’t burn). When they are brown and golden, push the onions to the side of the pan. Add a some olive oil to the cleared spot, and saute cardamom pods, coriander seeds and Chinese red pepper corns in oil. After they release their flavors, scoop out the spices.
Add the garlic, ginger and sauté with the onions. Add the orange juice and beer and let it bubble down until thick. It should look like an onion jam. At this point, you can turn the heat off and wait until you’re ready to serve.
Turn up the heat to medium high and add the cleaned mussels, and a half cup of liquid. I added water and a dollop of Belgian beer. Cover, and cook until the shells open. Our mussels, in the two inch range, took about four minutes. Scoop the mussels into a large bowl. To the broth, add two heaping tablespoons of butter, stir until melted, add cilantro, and pour broth over the mussels.
We ate with our hands, slurping the sweet tender mussels, trapped onions, bright bits of ginger and spicy-sweet broth from blue-black shells.
Serve with oven-fries. Here’s how to make them. Peel and slice potatoes. Place on a cookie sheet, and coat in olive oil, use your hands to toss the potatoes. Place in a preheated 400 degree oven. Do not fuss with the potatoes until they smell good like browning potatoes, and the fries on the edges of the pan are golden brown and not sticking to the pan. Use a spatula to move the pale fries to the edges of the pan. When the frites are golden, remove from oven. They are softer than deep-fried fries, but they taste wonderful, a combination of crunch and softness, that is even better when dipped in the mussels broth.
(Top photo courtesy of Rive Bistro.)