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.
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.
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.)