Monday, March 15, 2010

Moules Frites

One of my favorite comfort foods is a pot of mussels with plenty of bread for dipping. Sopping up the rich, salty broth with bread is (literally) a slice of heaven in my book. When you add crispy french fries with some delicious aioli... mmmm, well it's pretty apparent the Belgians are really on to something.

I always get my mussels from Anastasi's in the Italian Market. They are clean, very few stiffs, and little if any sand (these are important traits if you have ever had sandy/still bearded mussels). Five pounds later, I was ready to go. Note: one of the hardest parts of making mussels is determining how many to buy. Five pounds is a good approximation for 4 very big eaters.

When you get home, put them in a colander, give them a good rinse with cold water, and dump them into a big bowl and cover with a wet paper towel on top. At that point pop them in the fridge until you are ready to cook. It works like a charm to keep them cool and alive until they go into the hot pot.

When you are ready to cook, assemble your base ingredients of choice. I chose onion, shallot, bacon, blue cheese and fresh parsley this time, and highly recommend the combination. You'll want to dice them up finely and have a big stock pot ready to accommodate the delicious mixture. Give the bacon a fairly larger, rough dice. Don't worry about pulling the slices apart, they will naturally separate when you fry them. First the bacon goes into the pot to crisp. I used just under a pound of raw bacon.

When it reaches your desired crispness, pull it out and drain most of the grease, but leave about a tablespoon to brown the veggies in. While the bacon is sizzling in the stock pot, put the potatoes through a french fry slicer. Depending on the density of the potatoes you are using, this can be a bit of a task (sweet potatoes are brutally difficult so I usually halve them first). If you don't have one, you can just carefully and consistently slice them to your desired thickness using a very sharp knife.

For the first fry of the frites (there will be two), heat the oil in a deep fryer or large dutch oven to 310-320. This basically poaches the fries, and you will keep them in there until they are limp and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Below is what they should look like after their first dip into the oil bath.

Your onion and shallot should be browning up nicely at this point, so go ahead and add some salt and pepper if you haven't already. Also, turn the heat on your frying oil up so that it reaches 375 degrees. Now grab two beers of your choice: one for steaming the mussels, and the other for yourself - you want to be sure to reward the hard work you have done thus far. Celebrate being almost done and get ready to really indulge. When the oil is up to 375, drop your fries back in and brown them to your desired level of crispiness. I like really crispy, brown fries, so I let them in extra long (10 minutes or so).

Shake off the excess oil, add to a bowl and toss with sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, and freshly chopped parsley.

I usually whip up some smoked paprika & garlic aioli for dipping; with a little mayo, fresh lemon, crushed garlic and smoky paprika, you can't go wrong.

Here's where you will have fresh fries to pick at while you finish the mussels. Simply pour one of your beers into the pot with your sauteed dices (I used Intercourse Brewing Company's, Bareville Pilsner), and dump in your mussels. I like to throw a bit of the blue cheese in as well to add to the broth. They sell bread ends in the Italian market for a dollar a bag that work perfectly for this application.

Once the mussels have opened (about five to seven minutes or so), uncover, and add the remaining blue cheese crumbles, bacon crumbles, and chopped parsley. Make sure to give it a big stir to splash the broth all over the mussels, and as always, discard any that do no open, as they were dead to begin with, and are not edible. Bring everything to the table and feast! The best part: feeding four hungry friends with plenty of frites, shellfish, and delicious broth for dipping for about as much as mussels-for-one at most gastropubs!

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