Moules frites, or mussels and French fries (one of my new favorite dishes), tops almost every chalkboard-scrawled menu at restaurants along the Cap d’Agde harbor.
I learned this mussel recipe during my course at On Rue Tatin with Susan Loomis. The magic is in the Calvados liqueur. And though we didn’t make it with French fries, Baptiste’s Pomme Frites would be a heavenly accompaniment.
Normandy is famous for Calvados, an apple brandy, made with 70% apple liqueur. The apples are pressed into a juice, fermented as dry cider, then distilled, and finally aged in oak casks for a minimum of two years. If you can’t find Calvados or another apple brandy, substitute with white wine.
When working with the mussels, do not pull off the “beards” (strings coming out of the mussel) until right before you use them. If a mussel doesn’t close, tap it against the counter, and if it still doesn’t close, toss it out.
When it’s time to dig in, use a fork to pop out the first mussel, then use the empty shell to pinch out the rest of the mussels. Stack your empty mussel shells inside one another on the perimeter of your plate so you’re not stuck treasure hunting for the last morsel of mussel-y goodness
Normandy Mussels with Cider
6 pounds of mussels, rinsed, barnacles scrapped off and beards removed
1/4 cup Calvados, or hard apple cider
1 shallot, minced
2 Bay leaves
4 parsley sprigs
5 springs fresh thyme
Put the mussels in a stockpot and sprinkle with the shallot, bay leaves, parsley sprigs, peppercorns, and thyme. Pour cider over all, toss, and cover the pot. Set it over medium-high heat.
When the cider begins to boil, reduce to medium heat and cook the mussels, shaking the pan regularly (shake it by holding the lid on the pot and jiggling the handle, not stirring, which can cause the meat to fall out of the shells).
When the mussels open, cook for one additional minute (about 8 minutes total, but check after 5 minutes).
Any mussels that don’t open should be tossed. Season with fresh ground black pepper and serve immediately!
Recipe was printed with permission from Susan Loomis On Rue Tatin. Please do not copy or reprint this recipe without her written consent.
Serves: 2 generous servings for dinner or 4 as an appetizer