Bistro at Home: Moules Frites

One of my favorite dishes to make at home is steamed mussels. We’re lucky to have access to deliciously fresh, local mussels from Blue Moon Fish at our greenmarket. A great thing about them is that while they are wonderful eaten the same day, they can hang for a few days in the fridge until you’re ready for them. I typically buy some fish fillets on Saturday for that night’s dinner, and plan for mussels as an easy weeknight dish to come.

For the longest time I always served them with crusty bread, but this Summer I’ve been having luck with with making oven roasted fries. So I can get all fancy now and call them Moules Frites. This is a super easy and improv-friendly dinner. The only labor intensive part is cleaning the mussels. Here’s how:

  1. Start by soaking the mussels in a big bowl of fresh cold water. They’ll expel sand from inside their shells as they breathe.
  2. Then, using a firm brush, clean the sand and grit from the shells of the mussels under running water. (I like to keep them in a colander, set in a larger bowl beneath the running water while I do this. Once you’re done scrubbing you can lift the colander out of the bowl and dump the gritty water. Keep doing this until it’s clear.
  3. Some mussels may have a beard. You remove this by gripping and yanking it towards the hinge edge of the shell. If it’s stubborn, you can use a knife.

Diagram 2. External Features of a Mussel
Here’s a diagram of a mussel with a beard that I found on the internet.

Once they’re clean, proceed to steaming those mollusks. I can generally proceed from here with whatever ingredients are already in the kitchen and a cup of whatever we’re drinking with dinner. Use the recipe below as a template.

Chili and beer steamed mussels with cilantro

My Formula for Steamed Mussels

Serves 2 as a main (figure about 1 lb. mussels per person)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • *or* 2-4 leaks, sliced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • big pinch of red chili flakes
  • pinch of saffron or paprika (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tomato, coarsely chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup white wine or beer
  • 2 lbs mussels, cleaned
  • parsley, cilantro or other fresh leafy herb, coarsely chopped

In a heavy bottom stockpot with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Cook the onion or leak for about 5-8 minutes until tender and lightly golden. Add the garlic, chili, and spices if you’re using any, and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add the tomato at this point, if you want, and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes until they start to release their juices. Add the beer or wine and the mussels, some salt and pepper and give it all a good toss. Cover the pot and cook for about 6-8 minutes – shaking the pot every now and then – until the mussels are open. Toss the chopped herbs with the mussels and broth.

It may take a bit more time, but when most of the mussels are open, begin to transfer them with tongs or a slotted spoon to serving dishes. At this point if there are any unopened mussels, you can give them another minute or two and a shake in the pan, but if they don’t open, that means they weren’t alive when you cooked them and you don’t want to eat them.

Discard any unopened mussels and ladle some of the broth over each of the dishes. Serve with crusty bread or frites for dunking.

2 Responses to “Bistro at Home: Moules Frites”

  1. #

    Kimberley says:

    This is one of my all-time favorite meals. You should post your winning oven fries recipe!

    • #

      Heather says:

      I was going to and then I couldn’t remember if I’ve been baking them at 400 or 425! I guess I’ve got to make another test batch or 2 to confirm :)

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