‘Moules frites’ is a traditional Belgian dish. It does not refer to fried mussels but to mussels served with fries. The restaurant chain Léon de Bruxelles (www.leon-de-bruxelles.fr) does a brisk business in Paris serving mussels in ‘cocottes individuelles’. This is my idea of fast food – something that is quick to prepare and tastes good not the products served at the ubiquitous American chains which are becoming all too present in Paris.
Mussels take a little time to clean but only a few minutes to cook. To clean them – scrub the shells with a brush to remove and sand and adherences. Immediately before using, remove the beard (byssus threads that protrude from the side of the shell) by pulling with your fingers or cutting with a knife. Throw out any broken shells and any mussels that do not close when sharply tapped.
Also discard any that do not open after cooking.
60g (4 Tbsp) butter
2 onions, chopped
2kg (4 lbs) mussels, cleaned
400mL (1-1/2 cups) dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 branch fresh thyme
200mL (3/4 cup) crème fraîche or sour cream
60g (4 Tbsp) fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Melt butter in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions and cook to soften, stirring frequently to prevent colouring. Add the mussels, wine, bay leaf and thyme. Cover the pot and increase the heat to high for 5-8 minutes, shaking the pot from time to time, just until the mussels open. Throw out any mussels that did not open.
Remove the mussels from the pot, place in a bowl and filter the liquid through a sieve. Reheat the sauce in a pot. Add the crème fraîche or sour cream, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Divide the mussels between 4 bowls and pour over the sauce. Sprinkle with the parsley.
Provide a finger bowl and bowl for the shells.
Serve with slices of baguette.