Lately I've been craving mussels. I've never lived near the ocean, though whenever I'm near the coast--regardless of state or country--I try to eat fresh seafood as often as possible. While the modern era of food shipped by plane means that the coasts are closer than ever, it's still nice to eat seafood that's as fresh as possible, and the cheapest way to do that is with mussels. Pictured at right are four pounds of live mussels picked up at Costco for $9 American. I brought them home, gave them a scrub, ditched the cracked or dead ones, and left the live ones to hang out for an hour before dinner. You've got to love the smell of live mussels; it's just like being on the beach right after a rain storm.
Previously when I've cooked mussels, I merely steamed them, and served them with a little butter and lemon. Nice, but not awe-inspiring. As part of my continuing personal education in French bistro cooking, I consulted the Les Halles Cookbook and picked the first mussels recipe, moules normande or Mussels Normandy. The French joke that the cooks of Normandy put butter, cream and apples in everything, but what's wrong with that? This recipe starts off with half a stick of butter in a large pot, followed by a shallot, an apple (I used a Johnathan), 3 slices of chopped cooked bacon, a cup of cream, a splash of Calvados (I used a little brandy and apple juice), and finally the load of mussels. Cook for 10 minutes, shaking occasionally. Serve when all the mussels are open.
The finished product was incredibly delicious. Paul and I sat there for an hour working through the mussels, sopping up the savory sauce with big chunks of French bread. The bacon really made the dish--with a little determination you could get a big mussel, a chunk of bacon, and a piece of apple, all drenched in the cream sauce. Maybe a half dozen mussels were left over at the end, when we were too full to continue.
While hard apple cider would have been the most authentic Norman companion, and I really wanted a creamy white Burgundy, I opted for the 2004 Hayman & Hill Russian River Chardonnay. Pleasantly fruity, with abundant pear flavors. Hints of honey on the nose. Nice and unoaked, not sweet at all, but the fruit flavor makes it a delightful match for the savory dish served. For $11, not a bad wine, and it definitely hit the spot with this simple yet rich dinner. I look forward to trying the other four classic mussel recipes.