My youngest, Brandon, has expensive tastes, particularly in food. He also has strange tastes for a teenager. He doesn’t like fast food with the exception of Culver’s and Taco Bell. Don’t ask him if he wants a Big Mac and fries, his answer will be and always will be an unwavering, “no.”
I introduced him to sushi when he was two; one of those cruel things parents do by feeding their kid something we’re positive they will hate just to see the look on their face. Admit it, you’ve given your child a lemon at least once for the sole purpose of getting a laugh when their face contorts. However, I didn’t get the reaction I expected when I served my toddler raw fish, wrapped in seaweed. Remember that old Life cereal commercial? Well, he liked it, he really liked it. So much so, it became his favorite food to this day. To impress me even more, as that little toddler, he learned to use chop sticks on the first try. He was probably Japanese in a former life.
The sushi was just the spark. He loves calamari, steak (filet mignon of course), crab, smoked oysters, roe, octopus (sushi style) and yes mussels. At most restaurants mussels are usually listed as an appetizer. If they’re on the menu, he will order them either as a starter or his main course. He loves these things.
So being the good mom I am I made them for him. One of my favorite books on French food is “The Country Cooking of France“.
The recipes are sublime, even if there are a few strange ones I haven’t dared yet. It’s just a difference in gastronomy between our countries, but what they DO so well is cook with the most natural, richly flavored ingredients. This is one of the recipes and I have had it on my list for awhile.
The key to mussels is buying them as fresh from the water as possible and make sure they are all closed. A good seafood market counter knows this and will check them diligently for a tight seal. Use them as quickly as possible and scrub them thoroughly. They’re used to water, they won’t mind the bath.
The French like to cook with alcohol, that’s no secret. I never had alcohol in my house until I started cooking things from scratch and now, walking into my home, a stranger would think we need an intervention. I have an entire shelf in my pantry dedicated to liquor. I had to buy a wine rack and even joined the Knocking Point wine club (which was pointless since I refuse to open most of their wine). Husband and I simply don’t drink much alcohol except for the occasional glass of, some other wine.
Cognac is a favorite ingredient in French cooking. They put it in main courses to desserts. So grab a good bottle of it and keep it handy, especially for this recipe. It adds a delicious zing. This recipe calls for cognac AND white wine.
The Crème Fraiche, which is a tart cream sauce, really perks these little guys up with just a bit of pucker but enough to keep it smooth and oh the flavor. Trust me, these mussels aren’t going to mind being boiled alive for this recipe. They’re going to taste oh so good and be happy to sacrifice to the cause.
Here’s the part some cooks will love or hate. Go to your spice cabinet, securely locked safe, or John Wick vault buried under your subfloor, and pull out that sacred stash of saffron. You can do it, trust me. I know it’s hard parting with it if for nothing more than how your wallet cries when you have to purchase more.
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. At $500 an ounce, it’s more expensive than gold. This is because each flower contains only three strands of saffron and it takes an incredible amount of labor to plant and harvest it. It’s mostly grown in Europe and India but 90% of saffron comes from Iran. In spite of its cost, it’s a very durable flower capable of surviving harsh winters and high heat. Oh and in case your thinking it, stop. You can’t grow it here in the States, so just let it go Elsa. Save your pennies.
Now grab a few strands because you need them for this dish. Trust me, it’s worth it. Depending on your menu or preference, serve them alone for an appetizer or top them over pasta for a more robust meal.
If you love French food, I highly recommend you pick up The Country Cooking of France. Not only are the recipes as authentic as you can get, but the stories of the culture and food that are included, along with the photos make this a perfect coffee table book. My copy is always on the table in the living room. It’s impossible for people who come over, not to pick it up. My father flipped through it, fell in love and ordered it. It’s not just a recipe book, it’s a conversation piece.
If mussels are your thing and you want to serve something that isn’t too difficult, not time consuming and makes a beautiful presentation, this recipe won’t disappoint.
Enjoy & live a meaningful, joyful life!
- 6 lbs fresh mussels
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided by 2 equally
- 3 medium onions, chopped
- 2 garlic clove, diced not minced
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 Tbsp Cognac (more if needed for taste)
- Large pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 2-3 tablespoons boiling water
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 1/2 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 cup active buttermilk
- juice of 1/4 lemon
- Add all ingredients to a saucepan and heat gently on very low heat until 75 degrees F. If you don't have a kitchen thermometer heat until barely cool to the touch.
- Remove from heat and keep at room to warm temperature (70-80 degrees) for 12-24 hours.
- Cream is ready when it's slightly tart and cream begins to thicken.
- Clean the mussels and put them in a large pot with the wine.
- Cover and cook on high heat until they open; about 5 minutes.
- Transfer the mussels to a warmed bowl using a slotted spoon; cover and keep warm.
- Reserve the cooking liquid.
- Melt 3 Tbsp butter over medium heats.
- Add onions and cook until lightly browned.
- Add garlic, cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 30 seconds.
- Stir in Cognac and saffron with its liquid.
- Pour the reserved mussel liquid through a tight straining spoon into the sauce.
- Bring the sauce to a boil then reduce heat to simmer for 1-2 minutes.
- Test for flavor; adjust as needed.
- Crush the remaining 3 Tbsp butter and flour together to form a paste then whisk into the simmering liquid.
- Whisk in crème fraîche and bring back to a boil for 1-2 more minutes.
- Test for flavor and adjust as needed.
- Add mussels to serving bowls that have been warmed; you don't want the bowl to cool the mussels.
- Spoon sauce over mussels.
- Garnish with sprigs of Thyme/Rosemary/Parsley and a slice of lemon.
- Six pounds makes enough for a full meal. Adjust if cooking for an appetizer or smaller group of people.
- Can also be served over thin pasta. Trust me, it's delicious.