Tuesday, August 10, 2010

2 Recipe #161: Moules Provençales (Mussels Provençal)

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When I was in Prague last year, there was this Belgian place, called Les Moules, that'd been highly recommended to us by both the concierge at our hotel and by several other people. If you don't happen to know French, les moules = mussels. So, this place obviously specialized in mussels. :) And, if a restaurant focuses solely on one type of food, & that's pretty much all they make, that's usually a pretty good sign that it's going to be good, or at least, it better be good if they're going to live up to their name! ;)

During our trip, we'd already sampled Czech cuisine several times, which tends to be very heavy (meat & potatoes type of dishes) & in many ways, is very similar to German food, but that night, were in the mood for something a little bit lighter. We'd been walking through the old quarter, down Pařížská třída (Paris Avenue) -- there are some really nice, high-end shops and upscale restaurants along this route (!) -- and had decided to find Les Moules on a complete whim; we'd heard a lot of good things about this place and had been wanting to try it. Since it was a spur of the moment decision, we'd forgotten to bring the exact address with us and so, only had a general inkling of the location. We'd walked around for a bit, and then, when we stopped trying so hard to find it, thankfully bumped right into it. :)

Anyhow, our steadfast attempts to find the place were worth it. My dining companion and I had a fabulous meal there, accompanied by some Belgian-style pomme frites (i.e., salted, thick-cut fries served with a mayo-based sauce) and some delicious Belgian beer brewed by Trappist monks. Yum, yum, yum! :-D (See, that's evidence that I do indulge from time to time. ;) )

I'd had mussels provençal (moules provencales or moules a la provençal) many times before, but this was certainly one of the more memorable outings. So, as an homage to this visit, I thought I'd try my hand at making them at home. I'd made mussels marinara before, which is very similar -- basically the Italian version of this dish ;) -- and had also made other types of tomato-based dishes featuring mussels -- i.e., a pescetarian version of paella and a delicious Svensk fisksoppa (Swedish Fish Chowder), etc. So, sure, why not. :) (At some point, I'll probably post both of those recipes too. They are both really tasty!)

Moules Provençales (Mussels Provençal)

This dish is a traditional favorite of both the French and the Belgians. It's quick & easy to make, but oh-so-delicious! An important consideration when cooking mussels is to cook them quickly. If cooked properly, they should take only about 5 minutes. Any longer than that, and they'll be as tough & rubbery as a rubber chicken. :-D Also, they need to be steamed. Of course, the temperature of steam can be very hot, so be careful not to burn your hands. When lifting the lid, the use of silicone mitts that fully cover your hands & wrists is highly recommended. ;)

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 c. yellow onion, peeled & diced (about 1 small onion)
2 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & minced (about 4 large cloves)
1 fresh large bay leaf
2 c. good white wine (added 1 c. at a time) (I used Gewürztraminer)
2 c. vine-ripened tomatoes, diced (about 4 small tomatoes)
2 Tbsp. fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, finely minced & tightly packed
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, finely minced & tightly packed
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, roughly torn into small pieces & tightly packed
1 Tbsp. fresh marjoram, finely minced & tightly packed
1/2 tsp. saffron
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. red chili pepper flakes
1 tsp. lemon zest (the zest of about 1/2 lemon) (optional)
2 lbs. fresh (black) mussels, debearded, scrubbed, & rinsed (about 33 mussels)

Directions: In a large pot, sauté onions in olive oil on low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. After the first 4 minutes, add the garlic & bay leaf & cook for one more minute. Deglaze pan with 1 c. wine and reduce liquid to about half its original volume. Then add tomatoes and cook for about another 2-3 minutes. Add bay leaf, parsley, oregano, basil, marjoram, saffron, salt, black pepper, red chili pepper flakes, & lemon zest, if using. Next, add remaining cup of wine & turn up heat to medium-high. Add mussels & quickly cover with a tight-fitting lid. Allow mussels to steam for exactly 5 minutes. While wearing silicone mitts that fully cover your hands & wrists, carefully uncover the pot, standing a good distance away from the rising steam. Discard any unopened mussels. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the rest out with the surrounding tomato-herb mixture & place into deep bowls. Pour equal amounts of  broth over the top of each bowl, garnish with with basil sprigs, & serve immediately.

If you like, serve with a side of baked french fries or a slice of toasted French bread. :)

Mussels provençal can also be served over linguine or fettuccine, which, of course, is a typical preparation for mussels marinara as well. If you choose this option, be sure to adjust the number of servings accordingly, to accommodate the number of diners, since a smaller amount of mussels will be needed for each serving of pasta. This dish will be much more filling with the pasta, so unless you're planning to serve an army, I highly recommend that you cut the recipe. ;)

Yield: 2-3 servings as a main course & 4-6 servings as an appetizer.

Chef's Notes: Unlike other types of seafood, mussels typically remain alive until they are cooked. Should any mussels open while you're preparing them for cooking, just tap them with the blunt edge of a knife. This will make them "wake up" & then close back up.


Melissa said...

Thanks this recipe is delicious - five mins on the dot and the mussels were perfect! Loved watching the mussels close after knocking on them!

Cyberpenguin said...

You're welcome, Melissa! So glad the mussels turned out so well for you! Yes, it IS rather fun to watch them go back to sleep after you tap on them.:) Thanks so much for you feedback on this recipe.
Happy Holidays!

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