Monday, 31 March 2014

Monday Moules Marinière & Muscadet

I don't know about you, but March has felt like a very long and expensive month; I'm bloomin' glad it's the end. Not only does that mean that it's the day of dad-jokes and general pranks tomorrow - April Fools - but more importantly, it;s pay day!

No doubt most of you will have been given your pennies on Friday, and I'm sure you spent a good portion of them that evening at the pub, but annoyingly I get paid today, on a bloody Monday. No hefty celebrations for me unless I want to go to work with a hangover, and a Tuesday hangover is really not my friend. So instead, to embrace my replenished bank account, I plan on cooking a slap up dinner with some good booze both in and on the side.

I could go all out - expensive steak, expensive wine - but seeing as I've been feeling frugal over the last week or two, I don't want to be too hasty. I'm proposing a classic; it's a 'special occasion' kinda dish that really should be more of a mid-week-er, because it's actually very cheap and easy to prepare;
Moules Marinière.

It all sounds rather extravagant, but a kilo of mussels, which will happily feed two when you have a crusty baguette or chips on the side (as the Belgian's dictate), will only cost you around £4 - £5. And though you might think they're a lot of work, it's just the initial prep which can be faffy; after that, it's a breeze.

The general rule of thumb is that whatever wine you put into the dish should be the wine that you drink with it too, so don't scrimp and chuck in the dregs of that wine that's been hanging around for well over a week, pick something tasty!

The traditional wine match to mussels is Muscadet; a dry French white from the Loire Valley, which has a crisp acidity with a salty minerality. Winemakers typically bottle the wines straight from the lees (the lees are what is left at the bottom of the tank after fermentation), hence 'sur lie' on the label, and this adds a creamy depth and nuttier character to the wine. Though it's not as popular as your Chardonnays or Sauvignon Blancs, you can still find it in the supermarkets. Try this Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine for £7.00.

I’ve tried many variations of Moules Marinière, but this one, from Nigella’s ‘How To Eat’, is by far the best (and booziest). If you’re not slurping or mopping up the winey liquor at the end, then there must be something wrong with you.

Moules Marinière (serves 2)

You’ll need:
  • 1kg – 2kg mussels (the recipe dictates 2kg, but I find 1kg more than enough)
  • 50g butter
  • 1 small onion or 2 shallots, chopped very fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • A good handful of fresh parsley, chopped (about 5 tbsp)
  • 300ml white wine
  1. Wash the mussels in plenty of cold water. Scrape away any barnacles, pull off all the beards and wash the mussels again. Discard any that are cracked and those that are open and do not close when tapped sharply. (Likewise, when cooked, throw away those which have stayed closed.)
  2. On a medium heat, in a very large pan which will take all the mussels later and which has a lid, put the butter in with the onion (or shallot), garlic and about 1 tablespoon of the parsley. Stir for a minute until the smell of garlic wafts out of the pan, and then add the wine. Cook for another minute or so on a low heat, with the lid on.
  3. Turn the heat up up up, throw in the mussels and clamp the lid back on. Give the pan a shake occasionally. After 3 minutes, take a look and remove all the open mussels you see, then put the lid back on and give them another 2 minutes.
  4. When the rest of the mussels have steamed open, remove them to your bowls (you’ll need huge ones). Take the pan off the heat; let the juices settle for a moment so any grit that may have been in the mussels sits at the bottom. Then, pour the juices carefully over each bowl of waiting, gaping shells, leaving any gritty bits at the bottom.
  5. Sprinkle over the remaining parsley, and serve with some decent bread, or chips and mayo, you decide. (It’s also handy to have a couple of plates or bowls for the empty shells on the table.)
Easy, huh? And if you so happen to be more of a beer drinker, then witbier/bière blanche is a cracking alternative to the wine; again drink the same beer with them. Hoegaarden is a good choice, but any blonde Belgian will do. (Hoegaarden is available in all the supermarkets, but Asda has it cheapest, £2.50 for a 750ml bottle, or a pack of 4x330ml for £3.)

Legend has it that mussels are best eaten in the months containing an R, which doesn’t give us long, though in reality you will find them at the fishmongers all year round. Even so, I’m sticking to tradition and making sure I have 'Payday Moules & Muscadet' before the R-less summer is upon us.

... Junember’s a month right?

Top image taken from Alex Brown's photostream under the CCL.

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