Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
Here we go again: fancy foreign stuff. But as always, this is so easy you’ll be amazed you didn’t think it up yourself.
Foreign name: what does it mean? Well, moules is mussels and mariniere means in a style associated with sailors (mariners). People living by the sea would quite likely be sailors or fishermen, and their wives would have had access to mussels because they grow naturally on rocks on the shoreline. So the train of thought centuries ago must have been: why not eat them?
THE COOKING IS NOT THE HARD PART HERE. IT’S A PIECE OF CAKE. PREPARATION IS THE THING.
Q. How many mussels do you need?
A. About two cereal bowls full for each person, depending on their appetite.
You will probably be buying them from someone standing behind a counter, so you have the old-fashioned advantage of being able to ask somebody for help. If it’s an actual fishmonger, he or she will know exactly how to help you. But even a general supermarket assistant should at least be able to adapt your cereal bowl measurement. A bowlful is probably about what you would get if you scooped a load out with both hands.
Get too many rather than too few. The edible part is much smaller than the shells, and if you’ve got more than you need you can just cut down on the amount of bread you’re eating as filler.
Now, you will need a big pan, maybe a huge one if you are cooking for several people. Look at your mountain of mussels: have you got something that can handle them? You only want it half-full at the most.
Back in your kitchen, sort through the mussels by hand. They should be closed. If you find a few that are open, throw them away, because they are off, dead, poisonous. Dump any broken ones too.
Now, they have little bushy things growing out of them. These are known as beards, and you need to get rid of them. Just pull them out and discard them. Scrub the shells and if some have big barnacles, knock them off with the blunt side of a large knife (just so they don’t spoil the appearance).
Give the mussels a good rinse to get rid of any sand that may be lurking.
That’s it: you’re ready.
Dry white wine (or dry cider – even better, in my opinion)
Parsley, thyme, bay leaf
Cream (not the thick stuff, just whipping cream)
Melt some butter in the bottom of your cavernous pan (don’t get it too hot), chop the onions and garlic and throw them in along with the thyme and bay leaf. Just give it long enough for the onions to soften. Don’t let them go brown.
Chuck the mussels in and add a couple of (wine) glasses of wine or cider.
Put the lid on the pan and cook for just a few minutes, shaking or stirring a few times.
DON’T GO AWAY OR DO SOMETHING ELSE. As soon as the mussels are open, they’re done.
Add a cup of cream and some chopped parsley and mix it all up
DO NOT AUTOMATICALLY ADD SALT. The mussels will contain more than enough sea salt as it is.
Serve in big bowls with good, crunchy French bread to dip in the liquid.
When they were cold, we threw out those that were open. Now that they are cooked, get rid of any that are not open.
Q. How do you eat them? Knife and fork?
A. Pull out the mussel from one small-to-medium shell and eat it. Then use that shell with your fingers and thumb to extract the rest.
When you’ve eaten all the mussels, enjoy the juices by dipping the bread in or use a soup spoon.
Dry white wine is the traditional accompaniment, and Muscadet is the most commonly used of all. But any dry white – Pinot Grigio, Verdicchio, whatever – will be fine.
Or some dry cider, of course, especially if you have cooked with it. Technically that is moules fermiere (fermier = farmer).
Et voila, chef. Merveilleux!