Spicy mussels in cream

Mouclade is often served with the mussels presented on the half-shell, but I prefer to remove the shells completely and serve this unusual starter in ramekins or other small bowls. Be careful — it’s potent. A little goes a long way.

A note of caution: The mussels will be live when you bring them home from the fishmonger. You don’t need to cook them right away — they will be fine in the fridge for several hours. But be sure to transfer them out of any plastic and into an uncovered bowl so that they can breathe.

1/2 liter (2 cups) small to medium mussels
1 tbsp. butter
2 shallots
1/4 cup dry white wine

freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. curry powder or saffron

2 tbsp. crème fraîche or heavy cream
1 sprig fresh cilantro or parsley

First, ‘beard’ the mussels: Place them in a bowl filled with cold water for a few moments before beginning. Then hold each mussel under cold running water and pull out the seaweed-like ‘beard’ emerging from its shell. Place the cleaned mussels in a colander.

Peel and mince the shallots.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a cover, heat the butter to sizzling. Add the shallots and cook for about a minute, stirring, until they have wilted.

Add the mussels. Stir again, grind in some black pepper, add the wine and cover the pot. You do not need to salt the mussels for they will release sea water when they open — they’re naturally salty.

After a minute or so, lift the lid and peek to see whether the shells have opened. If not, replace the lid and cook for another minute. As soon as all the mussels are open, even slightly, remove from heat.

Allow the mussels to cool for easy handling. Then pour the contents of the pot through your colander over a large bowl to catch the cooking liquids. Set the bowl aside.

Remove the mussels from their shells and place them in a saucepan. (If there are any that have not opened, discard them, for they may not be good to eat.) Add the cooking liquids and reheat gently.

When the mixture is warm, add the cream and spices — either curry powder or saffron, but not both. Allow to simmer for one minute.

Transfer to small bowls. Snip the herbs over the mussels or place a few leaves on the side for decoration. Serve accompanied by crusty bread and a good white wine. Serves 2.

Regular readers of this blog may notice similarities between this recipe and the other mussel recipes on the site. This is because they all begin with the basic recipe for moules marinières — mussels cooked in white wine — which is one of the simplest and most popular dishes in France.

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