Mussels are a real treat in our house, though being as cheap as chips and abundant as they are there’s no real reason for this. They also happen to be my husband Philipe’s absolutely most favourite dinner, but only with a simple Mariniere sauce and served with a mound of chips and plenty of fresh bread on the side to soak up all the lovely broth. Plus a little bowl of homemade mayonnaise. Whilst I’m sure our kids would love Moules Frites too, they’re a grown up late night treat in our house to messily and greedily tuck in to when the kids are safely tucked away in bed.
The fiddliest bit of cooking mussels is in preparatory cleaning and de-bearding. It really is worth taking the time to thoroughly clean each individual shell and pull off any hairy ‘beards’, at least if you want to up your chances of avoiding poorly tummies. In doing so discard any broken or open shells. Once this fiddly task is done they’re unbelievably easy and quick to cook.
Traditionally Marinieres sauce is made with shallots, garlic, fresh herbs and white wine. I tend to add a little creme fraiche or double cream to mine, but feel free to omit if you don’t do cream sauces. I love using tarragon with it’s slight note of aniseed, but if you don’t have any to hand it’s just as nice with only parsley.
I cook my own chips to serve with mussels, but as I don’t have a deep fat fryer mine are more healthily baked in the oven. And they really don’t take long to cook either, parboiled for 4 minutes then roasted in a little sunflower oil in a very hot oven for a further 15 to 20. Barely longer than shop bought oven chips yet so much better, they really are surprisingly good.
Enough for two hungry big people:
For the Moules Mariniere:
a kilo to a kilo and a half of fresh mussels
15g of butter
a tablespoon of olive oil
a shallot, finely chopped
a large clove of garlic, or two small, finely diced
a large glass of white wine
a tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley
a tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
salt & pepper
4 tablespoons of creme fraiche or double cream
For the Frites:
2 large potatoes, Desiree or other floury ones, peeled
2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
salt & pepper
Start with thoroughly cleaning all your mussels, scrubbing the shells and removing their hairy beards. Discard any with broken or open shells. Set aside until you’re ready to cook them.
Preheat your oven to 230°C, or as hot as it will go.
Peel and slice the potatoes into chips, cutting first lengthways into 1cm slices, then into 1cm thick chips. Unfortunately any thinner and they’re a bit too tricky to oven cook. Place the chips in a saucepan of boiling water and simmer for 4 minutes. Drain well and leave to steam for a couple of minutes.
Carefully empty the parboiled chips out onto a large baking tray and coat them evenly in 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil and a little salt and pepper. Place in the hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes, turning at least a couple of times during the cooking time. They’re ready when they’re golden and crisp.
About half way through the chip’s cooking time start the Moules Mariniere. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan (one big enough to easily hold all the mussels, and one that has a lid) and gently fry the finely chopped shallot and garlic for about 5 minutes until very soft, stirring regularly. Add the wine and herbs and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the cream or creme fraiche (if using) and bring back to a simmer. Tip in the mussels, shake around in the sauce a little and put the lid on. Steam the mussels on a medium heat until most of the shells are open, this should be only about 2 to 3 minutes.
Serve the mussels and chips immediately with a pot of mayonnaise and plenty of fresh bread on the side.