Mussels are a popular dish in France, but the ingredients depend on WHERE in France you are. In the summertime in Normandy, you’ll see blackboards up and down the “rues” touting “Moules Frites,” their “go to” dish of a bowl of mussels served with skinny, crispy French fries on the side.  The Norman sauce is thickened with Normandy cream, produced by the Vache Normande cow the area is world-famous for. Thick with butterfat, Normandy cream, and the cows that produce it, are not for the feint of “heart!

A bowl of mussels -- sweet little morsels of magnificent tenderness.
  A bowl of mussels — sweet little morsels of magnificent tenderness.

Go south, and the sauce is lighter, laced with shallots, wine (no wonder we like the South of France!) and a dash of cream. Paul had a bottle of excellent Muscadet in the wine cooler just waiting for me to make this! The recipe combines the best of three recipes we tried.

Don’t be afraid of mussels. Yes, they have beards that need to be trimmed, and some of the bunch may be cracked and have to be thrown away. But these sweet little delicacies are a nice change of pace from meat and potatoes!  And don’t forget a baguette of French bread — you’ll need it to sop up the creamy delight that sits at the bottom of your bowl!

What You Need:
1.75kg (4 lbs.) mussels
Bouquet garni of 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley,
2 sprigs of thyme, and 1 bay leaf
2 shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
25g(about 2 tbsp.) butter
100 ml dry white wine
120 ml heavy cream
Grind of black pepper and salt to taste
3 tbsp. flat leaf parsley, chopped

Utensils & Tools:
Scrubbing brush
Paring knife
Chopping board
Sharp vegetable knife
Cheesecloth or small cheesecloth bags
Measuring cup and spoons
Deep Dutch oven or pot with lid
Slotted spoon
Large serving bowl

Under cold, running water, de-beard (those are the little hairs that stick out from the shell) and remove any barnacles with the paring knife. Scrub and rinse all the mussels, and rinse again while straining. Discard any open mussels that don’t close when touched and/or have damaged shells. Set the strainer aside in the sink while you prepare the vegetables.

Bouquet Garni.
Prepare the bouquet garni using cheesecloth or those tiny little cheesecloth bags that you find in cooking stores. Set aside.

Shallot. Garlic Clove. Celery. Carrot.
Mince the shallot and garlic; small dice the celery and carrot.

Butter. Shallot. Celery. Carrot.
Melt the butter in the Dutch oven or large pot until the butter bubbles subside. Add the shallots, celery and carrot and sweat them until they are soft.

Add the garlic, but be sure it doesn’t burn. Turn down the heat if any of the vegetables start to turn brown. You want them soft, not well-cooked.

Bouquet Garni.
Add the bouquet garni to the pot and stir.

Pour in the wine and stir.

Add the mussels to the pot and turn up the heat. Cover the pot and cook for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pot and stirring. Check that the mussels are all open before removing from heat. Cook until all the mussels are open.

Remove the pot from the heat. Take the bouquet garni out.

Add the heavy cream and stir.

Chopped Parsley.
Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the mussels and stir again.

Use a slotted spoon to remove any mussels that didn’t open. Pour the mussels and sauce into a large serving bowl, crack open the baguette, pour the rest of the wine and enjoy your taste of France!

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