When we visited Cap Ferrat near Nice recently, we of course greedily ate nothing but fresh local seafood. And I ordered a dish in a local restaurant, a stone’s throw from the sea, which I thought was brilliant, and I must tell you about it toute de suite.
But first, the backstory. If we dine in a Burgundy restaurant with friends, often someone will order les escargots à la Bourguignonne for their entrée (first course). The snails are nearly always prepared the traditional way: with tons of butter and garlic, and parsley whirled in. When they arrive, hot from the broiler, everyone else will be envious of the lovely aroma of garlic and butter. And the recipient will invariabley exclaim: “I don’t love snails, but I order them for the sauce.” Any remaining sauce will be dutifully sopped up with a baguette, too good to waste.
Je suis d’accord (I agree). Snails, if you have not had the privilege of sampling those slippery slugs that slither around my garden, sliming (and devouring) the zinnias, are tough, chewy, and virtually tasteless. But oh, that sauce!
Now back to my seafood dish. I ordered moules au four (baked mussels), which I assumed would be some sort of stuffed mussels, maybe like Oysters Rockefeller. What I got was this: mussels, prepared exactly like escargot, but without the bother of the snails.
The moules were on the half shell, and fragrant with garlic. The sauce seemed the same. And something else wonderful: they were served on a bed of mushrooms, which lend themselves beautifully to the same garlic-butter treatment.
Of course I don’t actually have the recipe, but I perused my files and cookbooks for escargot recipes, to recreate it. This is a work in progress, but it’s close--you may want to tweak it further.
RECIPE: De terre à Mer: Moules au Four, or Escargots au Bourguignonne, sans Escargots
Prepare the sauce a day ahead. I experimented with opening raw mussels, by the way (well, I talked the Husband into it). Disaster. The shells just shattered. So I steamed them ever so lightly first, just to get them open, which worked fine. I’m thinking a bed of spinach would be good, too.
- 1 stick (113 grams) butter at room temperature
- 2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped and mashed slightly
- a small shallot, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- a splash of white wine
- black pepper
- 3 pounds (1.4 kg) cleaned mussels, debearded
- 1/4 cup white wine and 1/4 cup water
- 1 pound (450 gr) small white or cremini mushrooms, very fresh; cut in half if large
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons cracker crumbs
- lemon wedges
Add the first seven ingredients to a bowl and mash with a fork or mix with an electric mixer until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 450F ( 225 C). Prepare the mussels, discarding any with shells that are open, or which don’t close after you tap them with a knife. Bring wine and water to a full boil in a saucepan, add mussels, and cook, covered, for 2 minutes max (start checking them after one minute), just until some are open. (Any that still look closed should be open slightly, enough to easily pop the shells open). Immediately remove from heat, drain, and spread them out on a plate to cool.
Meanwhile toss mushrooms with olive oil and divide them between four oven-proof serving dishes. Take half the butter, cut or scoop it into small chunks and place them on top of mushrooms, dividing them evenly. Bake 15 minutes, stirring from time to time.
While mushrooms cook, open shells and remove mussels, saving 3 or 4 pairs of the largest shells for each serving. Melt remaining butter mixture.
Remove mushrooms from oven, turn oven to broiler setting, and place open shells on top of mushrooms. Fill the shells with the mussels. Drizzle remaining butter mixture over mussels, and top with cracker crumbs. Put them under the broiler for a minute or two just until crumbs are brown and butter is heated, watching carefully so they don't burn. Serve with lemon wedges and crusty bread.
In the COMMENTS: Check out the other bat and critter stories from our readers. Barney, you have a point about my guests. But as you know, many French windows, including ours, can be opened a crack by proppig them open at the top. Too skinny for a bat--I hope! Katherine, if you, or anyone else, has a centipede remedy, I'd like to hear it. Lavendar, I grow plenty of that, I will try it, Ido.
Favorite Reads: Our reader Christine Webb-Curtis of Pen at the Ready has a new book out. Check it out: Adventures in the Southern Corners of France, a chronicle of her travel adventures in that part of the hexagon. Felicitations, Christine!
Foodies (and especially those who are not) will want to read Mark Bittman's review of the important new movie, Fed Up, in the New York Times. Or you can watch the trailer here. And on a similar subject, Bittman highlighted the ASPCA report on what people think organic means, as opposed to what the regulations say it means, in a post called "What is Organic? You may be Surprised". A real eye opener, especially regarding the raising of animals for meat. EX: nearly every chicken raised in the US suffers horribly---beaks cut off, crammed in cages where they can't move--even the organic ones, and there is very little regulation even then. You can read more at Truth About Chickens.
On more pleasant topics, reader Ido mentions the movie A Good Year This is one of our favorite French themed movies, light and fun--do see it if you haven't already. It is based on the book of the same name, by Peter Mayle.