Friday, January 16, 2009

Mes Moules Mouclade

I know that it's not exactly cool to say that you like Les Halles. It's one of those restaurants that a fair number of people who do not live in or around New York have heard of, due largely to the success of Anthony Bourdain's various ventures, which automatically means that actual New Yorkers consider it lame.

But it's one of the few pretty good restaurants near my apartment so I go there quite a bit. Not enough to be a regular, but enough to feel some sort of ownership of the place, and enough to have two favorite dishes: merguez and moules mouclade. The merguez I like for the gradual, warm spiciness (and for the fries), and the mussels I like for the creamy, curry spiked sauce (and for the fries).

But occasionally I get a very serious hankering for the moules mouclade when Paul's not around. I'm not opposed to eating by myself in restaurants, but Les Halles is not really the right kind of place to do it in. It's too big, too just feels a little wrong to be there without a companion.

So the first time the need for moules hit and I was sans Paul I just ordered the dish to go. But it was pretty unsatisfying. My fries became slightly less crisp than optimal during the transportation time, and eating mussels out of a giant plastic container is much less fun than eating them out of a cool looking metal vessel. It wasn't a great solution. But on the other hand it wasn't so bad that I didn't avail myself of it occasionally.

But the last time I craved the moules and tried to order them, I was told it was impossible! It is apparently a health code violation to make mussels to go. I'm not sure why this was suddenly such a major concern, but it brought the whole issue to a head. I had to take matters into my own hands. I am a capable, independent woman after all. I simply had to figure out how to make this dish for myself.

So I checked all of the usual sources. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, At Home in was as if the dish did not exist! No one even mentioned it! So then I moved on to the internet. And everything I found was in french (with the exception of one dairy free version which was in english, and which I rejected on ideological grounds). As I tried to figure out the foreign recipes I realized exactly how pathetic my french is. But I persevered, and eventually gathered that the general list of ingredients included mussels, white wine, creme fraiche, shallots, butter, parseley, saffron, flour, an egg yolk and curry powder. I had no idea of the translation for the amounts, so I set to work experimenting.

After I picked up my mussels and baguette (baguette is very very necessary for sauce absorption) at Citarella and my wine at, I came home and immediately soaked my debearded, scrubbed mussels (Citarella is fancy so they had cleaned everything for me already) in cold, salted water so they would disgorge any particulate matter that they might have been harboring.

As I waited the requisite hour, I cracked open the dry Muscadet that had been recommended by the wine god at Winesby. Lovely.

After the mussels had soaked, I began melting, sauteeing, stirring (sans saffron unfortunately, as I had used the last of mine up in the rutabega disaster of '09). I threw the mussels in, they opened up, I took them out again, threw in the yolk and creme fraiche to add some richness to the sauce,

decided that I needed a little more silk, a little more unctuousness, so I threw in some heavy cream. Yum. Topped off with parsley and some pepper, mussels back in to warm, pour everything into a big bowl, butter some baguette, and I was utterly and completely happy.

Now I'll be honest. It didn't taste quite like the mouclade that Les Halles makes. But, if I do say so myself, I kind of like my version better. I think that Les Halles must use cream instead of creme fraiche, because their broth is much, much richer and there is virtually no piquant aspect to it. And maybe they add the flour to thicken the sauce, which I don't find to be necessary. Regardless, I think I have happened upon an acceptable solution to my moules dilemma. Happy days.

Moules Mouclade
Serves 1

1 1/2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 tablespoons shallots, chopped
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon curry powder (I use madras)
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon of heavy cream
1 tablespoon parsley
pinch of salt (this may not be necessary, depending on how salty your mussels are)
pepper to taste

Sort through mussels and discard any that are open. Soak in cold, salted water for one hour.

After mussels have soaked, melt butter over medium heat in medium sized pot with cover. Add shallots, and cook until translucent. Add white wine and mussels. Cover and turn heat up to medium high. Cook until all mussels have opened, approximately seven minutes. Occasionally shake the pot with the lid on during cooking to redistribute the mussels in order to cook them evenly. While the mussels are cooking, whisk together the egg yolk and the creme fraiche.

Once mussels are open use a chinese strainer, or equivalent implement, to fish them out of the pot, while leaving the liquid behind. Add the curry powder, the creme fraiche and egg yolk to the liquid and stir thoroughly. Then let simmer for two minutes. Add heavy cream and taste. If you prefer a more decadent sauce, go ahead and add more cream. Then add salt if necessary, pepper to taste, and the parsley. Add the mussels back to the liquid, let cook for a minute, or until warmed through and coated in curry sauce.

Turn out into a large bowl, grab a baguette and go to town.


Terry B said...

Mon Dieu, Laura! This sounds amazing. If for no other reason than for the glass of Muscadet while you waited for the mussels to divest themselves of their grit. I don't remember this wine nearly often enough and always enjoy it when I do. But your moules recipe sounds glorious; I think you're right about the creme fraiche giving them some needed liveliness.

Regarding Les Halles, I must admit I've had some lovely meals there. And no, I'm not a New Yorker, so maybe that proves your point. But I'm not an Olive Garden-craving tourbot, either. I've since gone on to discover the joys of Lucien, Paradou and Bistro Jules [can you tell I'm a francophile?], but I still remember how well Les Halles gets French food.

Laura said...

You certainly have hit the franco-high points. Yes, I think Les Halles does certain things really well. It can be a little uneven (I would avoid the escargot for instance) but there is a lot of very good stuff on the menu (pate, frisee salad, croque madame, I could go on).

anita said...

Moules mouclade is a speciality of the Charente Maritime region and as such the ultra sniffy French from all other regions will deny it's existance.

C'est la guerre !

Garon from Manchester England

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