Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Moules Marinières.

Mussels, or poor man's oysters as they're called here, are a staple of just about every coastal café, hotel restaurant, or brasserie menu. In Fort-Mahon alone, just about everyone had a mussels-special of the day (ten different flavors, all for less than ten euros!...a relative bargain, that.), and that got me to wondering where all these wonderful shellfish were coming from.

One afternoon, while walking down the beach past the next resort town of Quend, my question was answered: mussel farms. Rows and rows (km upon km?) of posts were set up in the tidal area, and these supplied a good number of restaurants in the region.

For a girl who is accustomed to picking enough of her own shellfish off the shore to make a small dinner for herself and others, the scope of this enterprise was astounding: how many thousands of dishes are sold each summer? How much production is necessary to keep the restaurants supplied? How long did it take for the mussels to reach maturity?

On the menu front, too, I got to wondering: what exactly were these ten flavors of mussels we saw advertised? Mon ami and I tried to enumerate: marinière (white wine), cream, roquefort, curried, provençal (tomatoes and garlic), flavored with dijon mustard...with those, we'd prettymuch exhausted our imaginations.

When I make mussels at home (and I only do this if I can collect the shellfish myself), I opt for simplicity - white wine, olive oil and fines herbes.

Moules Marinière (serves 3-4)

1/4 cup olive oil (or butter)
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
chopped, fresh herbs to taste (usually what's in the garden: thyme, tarragon, oregano)
a small bucket (3-4 quarts) of mussels, scrubbed and bearded
a handful of minced parsley

In a deep skillet or pot, saute the onion and garlic in the oil until transparent. Add wine and herbs, then cook for two or three minutes. Add the mussels, and cook, closely covered over high heat for six to eight minutes. Shake the pan enough during this time to cooke the mussels evenly, but remove from heat the minute the shells are open. Pour the whole kit and kaboodle into heated bowls (mussels, then broth) and serve garnished with parsley.

The classic accompaniment to this dish is a plate of fresh, hot french fries, crusty bread and a cold glass of beer or cider. I like my mussels with a green salad and a glass of white wine. (Bon appétit!)

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