flexing-my-food-neuroses-and-also-mussels Recipes

moules à la marinière

In the two years since I’ve rejoined the meat-eating world after a 15-year absence, I’ve re-immersed in, I’d like to think, a considerable range of flesh. There’s been more chicken than you can shake a drumstick at (sorry, couldn’t resist), turkey, pork, beef and even some new things at tablecloth-ed restaurants like duck and quail. But, I’ve sorely lacked in my embracing of les fruit de la mer and this constantly mocks me on my journey to become the kind of eater that embraces everything edible. (I heard Ruth Reichl say a few weeks ago that the only food she simply will not eat is honey. Just one thing! And it’s honey!)

My issues with seafood are more than an aversion; they’re a reaction. It’s the type of nonsensical thing better explained in a Psychology 101 textbook than a food blog, but it basically unravels like this: I see a spectacular presentation of seafood on a menu or my husband’s plate and I yearn for it, but when a single fork-speared bite gets within an inch of my mouth, I go into bloodhound mode, finding some otherwise undetectable unpalatable “fishiness” and I abruptly panic. It’s such a strong, specific and illogical reaction – to not take a bite of something that appeals to you – I’ve said to my husband (an avid eater of smoked, boiled, broiled, breaded, fried, poached, shelled and de-shelled seafood of every color and shape) on more than one occasion that I wish I could just go to a hypnotist to help me “snap out of it.” He thinks I am kidding; I am not. Never doubt a woman quoting Moonstruck.

baked pommes frites

But, enough about my failures! Let’s talk about my one, single seafood success story: mussels. As a gateway fish (as opposed to the more-predictable tuna or shrimp) mussels really make no more sense than my rejection of such an evident delight as butter-drenched lobster tail (even typing this, I am further assured of my madness), but it’s where I am at right now and I do say, this recent batch were among the tastiest we have ever cooked. We had a 100% success rate with them – not a single came home DOA or refused to open – and they were unbelievably sweet and respondent to Julia Child’s marinière broth. Because what are moules without frites, I paired them with baked pommes frites that were as close to the real thing I’ve ever tasted, (I think the secret’s in the twice-cooking done in the deep-fried version.) crusty bread and a sancerre, and it was one of the most delicious meals we eaten at home in weeks. Better yet, with every wine, shallot and butter-drenched bite, my angst over my non-conversion to seafood grew quieter in my mind, whispering promises that one day, maybe even soon, we can move on to pan-seared scallops.

sliced baguette

Moules à la Marinière
Fresh Mussels Steamed open in Wine and Flavorings
Recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

2 cups light, dry white win or 1 cup dry white vermouth
An 8- to 10-quart enameled kettle with cover, though I’ve made this in many other pots successfully
1/2 cup minced shallots, or green onions, or very finely minced onions
8 parsley sprigs
1/2 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoons butter
6 quarts scrubbed, soaked mussels
1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley

Bring all but the last two ingredients to boil in the kettle. 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 and 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 the parsley and serve immediately.

Baked Pommes Frites
Adapted from Michael Chiarello

6 russet potatoes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil*
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel potatoes (if peeled fries are your thing, skip it if you couldn’t care) and cut into half-inch thick slices (lengthwise) cut again into 1/2-inch thick fries. Place the potatoes into a pot with cold water and 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring up to a gentle boil and simmer until a paring knife tip goes through easily, cooked about 3/4 of the way through.

Drain carefully and put potatoes a bowl. Add olive oil, 1 tablespoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Toss well and lay out in 1 layer on baking sheet. Bake until light brown.

* I used less this time, oiling the baking sheet first to limit sticking. He suggests you use a non-stick baking sheet if you have one. (I don’t.)

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60 comments on moules à la marinière

  1. RA

    Oh my goodness. As my sister would say, Yummers. I’ve never met a piece of seafood I couldn’t get along with, whereas my husband is getting accustomed to bites like these, and I’m glad to say that mussels were a baby step along this progression. Good luck with the rest of the aquatic food world!

  2. Cupcakes

    Tyler Florence did a food 911 on that very menu this past week. IT was for a group of gf’s that all went to Paris together and wanted to re-create that meal..

    so YUM.

  3. I love to eat seafood, but with the exception of fish on the grill, I hate to cook it. The smell! In the house! Ye Gods.

    Your pics, however, are enough to encourage me otherwise. Beautiful!

  4. Those look deliciously fresh, that delicate peachy flesh is beckoning me through the computer screen! I want some mussels now…pity all the stores are closed :(

  5. Oh, boy, I think that if you can do mussels, you can do scallops. I love the little guys, but when I have a choice I will pick clams. There’s just a lot less going on in there. Less anatomy.

  6. Carrie

    Wow! I am a mussel addict and your pictures are making me drool. Looks soo good! I’m going to get up my nerve and give making my own mussels a try.

  7. OH MY WORD – made both of these last night to great success. I think next time I’ll get my mussels from Whole Foods as I think mine were slightly lacking in quality, but the broth was AMAZING. The frites were the real star of the night though. I worried that boiling them first would make them mushy, but these were the most crisp oven fries I’ve ever made. Tasted like they were from a restaurant! THANKS for making my Valentine’s Day dinner a hit;)

  8. Anna

    I’m loving your website and am now on a mission to make (nearly) everything you’ve made (despite hardly making a sandwich before now). I actually have lemon-yogurt-anything cake baking right now! Anyway, I fell in love with mussels last summer on a trip to Sonoma and have been longing to make them ever since. One question: what does it mean to, with a big skimmer, dip the mussels into “wide soup places”?

  9. Angela

    I have that exact same issue with seafood. I think I must have got very sick after eating some as a little kid and no one picked up on it. Congrats on getting this far. It’s more than I’ve done, which is limited to eating fried shrimp with cocktail sauce.

  10. Jessica Stephenson

    Anna- My guess is, (and I’m not Julia so don’t quote me) that it means to use a big slotted spoon and “ladle” (minus the liquid) the mussels into bowls, then let the liquid settle some–no one wants to grind their teeth on sand–and then ladle some of that over the mussels. I WISH could be making this right now–but with all the red tide scare here in ME, mussels are pretty hard to come by. :-(

  11. cheryl

    Deb,
    If you can eat mussels you can eat any seafood/shellfish. Scallops are just so rich and buttery without any of that added. IF you can find them dayboat fresh caught, they can almost (well they can for me) be eaten raw. As for shrimp most of the stuff on the market are farm raised in Asia then frozen. Go out of your way to look for wild Gulf Shrimp. If you’re ever in FL look for fresh, Gulf shrimp. I can’t explain it but the frozen farm raised has no real flavor, perhaps a bonus to a new-bee. Fresh wild caught shrimp is better than lobster. As a former New Englander perhaps I just get homesick thinking of lobster but they are the bomb. Oh, here’s a good analogy…farm raised shrimp are like boneless, skinless chicken breast (we all know your thoughts on that sawdust). Oh you can sauce them up and plump them up…but…

    Take care!

  12. Meredith

    Anna- I just checked with my copy of Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking and the recipe wording is “large soup plates.” Funny how a typo can make an otherwise simple direction so confusing.

    Incidentally, I have not once cooked from this book (though I know that I should…), but use Smitten Kitchen all the time. Love the site, the photos, and your narrative Deb!

  13. clive

    I tried this last night…..it was OK. The one thing that totally got me was 6 quarts of mussels…..even google doesnt know the answer to how many pounds that is HAHAHAHA I used 2lbs.

    thanks for the recipe

    clive

  14. I tried this last night – the mussels were totally awesome, but the fries were not! How long do I boil the potatoes? As soon as my “paring knife tip [went] through easily”, it seemed like they were far too soft (almost mash-ready). I put them on an oiled cookie sheet and seasoned and baked as directed, but after 25 minutes in the oven, they were still soft and steamy. Help! How do I get them looking lovely and browned like in your photos?

  15. Alexis

    Clive- I had the same question.

    Can someone please tell me how many pounds of mussels to get for this recipe? I also can’t find a conversion for quarts to pounds. Thanks in advance.

  16. I landed on this post when I searched your blog for “fish”, trying to see whether I was right in thinking that there was very little fish in this here blog – which, I think, is one of the (many!) reasons that I like you.

    I’m not much of a fish eater – but mussels are on my list, and people look at me cross-eyed when I tell them I’ll eat mussels but not lobster, salmon or halibut. I’ve recently branched out to raw oysters.

  17. Chris

    Another big hit! This is a very simple but elegant meal. So easy to throw together for company as an appetizer or a full meal with heartier sides. I made the baked fries too, and found I let them boil a little too long, so it was difficult to keep their shape. Next time I will boil less and more carefully drain before baking. Still turned out delicious!

  18. LA

    I just made this on Friday for my birthday! It’s too bad that I didn’t discover your lovely site until yesterday (thanks to tons of free time caused by the big snowocalpse) because I would have loved those pommes frites, too.

  19. Tanya

    Alexis – I’m not sure on the correct conversion between pounds and quarts; but based on estimates I think maybe around 4 lbs is six quarts?

    I halved this recipe and made 2lbs of mussels with one half of the ingredients and it worked out really well. Good luck to all who are attempting, this is truly a treat!

  20. Tanya

    Oh sorry!! There’s actually a conversion table on the blog:

    4 cups = 2 pints = 1 quart = 32 ounces
    I think that you can easily convert the ounces into pounds.

  21. wojosan

    I’m loving your blog. Thank you for sharing with the rest of us your obvious joy for food… and the community that loves food along with you. :)

    I have a question for you, and a tip (maybe a new one???):
    Q: what do you mean by ‘soaked’ mussels? I haven’t run across that before.

    Tip: one of my cooking instructors told me that as you’re cleaning mussels, you may have some that are open, which can be ok. Take an open mussel and a closed one, and tap them gently together under running cold water. Apparently they think the tide is changing, and they will close if they’re still alive (and therefore good to eat!). Works for me, hope it works for everyone else!

  22. I love your blog! I’ve been reading several recipes and can’t wait to experience them! (My main problem is that my kitchen is 260 square feet…) I wanted to add that les moues marinières are from Belgium more than France (even though we grealty appreciate them here). If you ever go to Belgium, by the sea, try their moules marinières, they’re amazing…

  23. I’ve just realised that I wrote 260 square feet (that’s crazy!) (and proves I don’t remember my math lessons) I meant 8 square feet, less than 2,5 square meters…

  24. Anya

    omg, Deb + Julia Child = genius!! this recipe blew my usual mussels recipe out of the water, it was beautiful. as always, thanks so much for making sure that i keep myself, and the people around me, well fed!

  25. Shelly

    I adore mussels and eat them any chance I get, which is fairly often as I live on the west coast, but I am in agreement with you on lobster, not my favorite ….. but I love crab esp. Dungeness. I love oysters but can’t stand clams. Love Salmon and Tuna but only if its fresh and Halibut puts me near ecstasy if cooked properly.

    This recipe looks great and as soon as mussels are available these babies are hitting my dining room table.

  26. Shelly

    and I also meant to say that I love the presentatin of the frites. I am always looking for unique ways to dress up a table and that is really great.

  27. bkj

    Hi. I have the exact same reaction to seafood. I’ve always had it. Im the only one in my family that does’t like seafood. A boyfriend once suggested I get hypnotized.
    My gateway seafood is raw oysters. I can eat 2-3 at a time, no more. Its such an
    interesting trait. You’ve got me thinking about hypnosis. Wouldn’t it be great to
    indulge in these foods?

  28. Becki

    Got here by hitting the “Surprise Me” button, and HOLY CRAP, you read my mind. I have a serious aversion to all things seafood with the exception of the most beautiful moules (and, of course, their accompanying frites) at a local Belgian place. I went there once, didn’t get them because of aforementioned aversion, regretted it deeply after inhaling the sweet fragrance coming from my dining partner’s plate, and went back THE NEXT NIGHT and devoured the entire bowl like a mussel-crazed madwoman. Je ne regrette rien!
    (Anyway, love love love your blog.)

  29. Sara

    Oh, this just warms my little Belgian heart! Definitely spot on about cooking the frites twice–that’s the real secret–and all you are missing is some mayonnaise! Side note: groceries in Belgium actually sell pre-packaged bags of greens (pretty much exactly the ones you listed) specifically for making moules.

  30. I decided to dig into the archives and see what I found and this little gem popped up! You’ve inspired me, a fellow seafood hater who desperately wants to love seafood. Mussels on the menu next week! I’ll let you know how it goes :)

    Ugh. Gag.

    My head is screaming at me right now lol.

  31. Thank you for this recipe. My wife is a huge fan (talks about your site all the time, makes so many of your recipes, and couldn’t wait until your book was released), and I made this for her birthday tonight. I’m more adventurous than I am good in the kitchen, and I wanted to surprise her with something from this site. Every bit of it was delicious… so delicious.

  32. Jennie

    Wow. This sounds great! How many does it serve? Also…how long approximately would it take to turn the potatoes light brown?

  33. Esmee

    I love all kinds of seafood– well, almost all: no catfish, no calamari… It’s meat that I tend to get weird about: venison ( two bite limit); the very idea of eating a cow’s tongue; kidney ( tho I’ll eat a little bit of liver if it’s tender and cooked exactly right)…even looking at chicken in a supermarket or imagining pink slime lurking in ground sirloin under that pristine shrink wrap can send me rushing back to the safety and security of the produce aisle. When PEI or Tenants Harbor mussels are available,love having them lots if different ways and another great favorite is in a spicy puttanesca type sauce. I’d love a fabulous crusty baguette recipe to accompany that or any of these.

  34. Kelly

    Hi Deb,

    Just saw your post via link from David Lebovitz. Either way, I read all the comments, and love your recipe. But the BEST part of this was your reference to Moon Struck! “Snap out of it!” I adore that movie. “Your life is going down the toilet!” :)

    Keep up the great blog.

  35. Merle Williams

    This looks fantastic! I’m recuperating from ankle surgery at the moment but as soon as I can drive again, I will make these mussels.

    To the person who said if you like mussels you’ll like scallops….. No, no, no! I looove clams, lobster, mussels, most all fish & shellfish. I do NOT like scallops! Something about the texture in my mouth. Every now & then I will try one or two. It is getting better, but not my choice of shellfish.

  36. Amy P.

    My husband and I just hosted a moules frites party last night. It was a raving success and I wanted to give some feedback. We found that we used 1/2 lb of mussels per person. We got them that morning from our local Costco and were very impressed with the quality; they were well cleaned with very few beards and no sand.

    I tried both the Michael Chiarello original recipe and the Smitten Kitchen recipe for the fries and we all preferred Deb’s. I made 8 large potatoes and it took about 45 mins to bring them to a boil on my stove then I put them in the oven for about 35-40 mins. I got the best results when spreading them out on the pan and not letting them crowd. I hope this helps and I would highly recommend these recipes for a large party.

  37. deb

    Randigb — It should say plates. Now fixed, thanks.

    Mari — Have never found it necessary, especially with Russets which are naturally a little floury and can crisp up well.

    jamie — Julia Child has very details instructions in MTAOFC, but these here are about what I do, and should work too.

  38. GB

    I tried these out and came out great. Done it 3 times so far. Instead of olive oil for the pommes frites I used goose fat :) (bacon fat might also work)

  39. deb

    Katie — It’s never an exact science and has a lot to do with how you cut the potatoes. The parboiling is usually 3 to 8 minutes, the roasting 30 to 45 but it’s best to keep a watch on them.

  40. Kat

    I bought the book and decided to try these recipes for a big group of people (7-8) last night with my Belgian partner (who was super skeptical). The advice in the book about cleaning the mussels was excellent — I’d never cooked with them before so it really helped.

    The only part where we failed was with the fries. We wanted to prep as much as possible in advance so cut the potatoes the night before and kept them soaked in water in the fridge. Perhaps because of this they never reached the crispness that we were looking for.