In honor of Bastille Week here on French Rev, I’m doing a francophile Working Girls this week. I surveyed some of my friends who inspired the series, and they told me they did sometimes want to learn how to make something that intimidated them, and mussels were mentioned in that category. We can’t have that! We can’t have brains and beauty dwarfed by brawn! Flexing your mussels in the kitchen is one of the easiest things you can do. Mussels are cheap, they are so easy to make that you literally can’t mess them up, and they look so gourmet. And they cook in one pot in under 10 minutes. They also have that great, but rarely seen, dichotomy of being stewy and comforting while being light enough for summer.
Moules Marinière, or mussels in the sailor’s style, is the classic–white wine, onion, garlic, a bit of thyme, and a stir of cream. The broth is gorgeous, you soak it up with some whole wheat baguette. And in the video, I show you how my stepfather from Normandy, home of this dish, taught me to use mussels shells instead of a fork to eat these babies. Pretty nifty trick.
The point is, there is no reason to be intimidated by mussels. If you fear seafood, this one comes with a simple rule: BEFORE COOKING, THROW AWAY OPEN MUSSELS. AFTER COOKING, THROW AWAY CLOSED MUSSELS. If you follow that rule, you’ll know that any mussel opened after cooking is cooked and safe to eat, and you won’t run into trouble. Now get out there and flex those mussels!
2 pounds mussels
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 Spanish onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
8 stems thymes, leaves plucked and chopped
1 cup dry white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc
1/2 cup heavy cream
Bread for dipping (a must!)
An hour before you want to make your mussels, put them in a big bowl filled with water and a heaping spoonful of flour. Put the bowl in the fridge until you're ready to work with the mussels. This just ensures that the mussels spit out any sand they might be chewing on before they go into the pot.
When you're ready to make the mussels, drain the mussels from the water, and rinse off the flour. If any mussels are open, throw them out.
Preheat a large pan with high sides to medium heat. Add the olive oil, and the onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté, stirring often, until the onions are soft, fragrant, and translucent: about 4 minutes.
Add the wine and thyme and mussels to the pot, and season again with salt and pepper. Leave the heat on medium, and cover the pot. Leave the pot alone: once all the mussels have opened, after about 5 minutes, the dish is done. If any mussels are still closed, throw them out.
Take the pan off the heat, and stir in the heavy cream. Serve with bread!
Normally in my giveaways, I give away a new cookbook. But this week, in honor of Bastille Day, I’m giving away a favorite cookbook: Barefoot in Paris, by Ina Garten. The book is beautiful to look at, full of color-saturated pictures of lavender bundles and shady tables, that just makes you wish you had a kitchen with a balcony overlooking a Paris avenue, replete with an accordéoniste. I love the recipes for cassis and water, something I grew up drinking myself, the perfect créme brûlée, and the tips on how to artfully arrange flowers. Everything French becomes so easy and accessible in Ina’s hands, and I’m sure you’ll love the book.
To win, just comment with your favorite French food. Make us all drool in anticipation and starvation, and I will pick a comment at random. Good luck!
Welcome Daily Candy visitors! I am beyond thrilled today that DailyCandy is featuring French Revolution in its national edition–in time to get us all ready for Bastille Day next Thursday. In the DailyCandy newsletter and on the website, you can find my videos for easy, simple, chic, fun bistro recipes that anyone can make in any kitchen under any circumstances. We all want to be a little bit French, so next Thursday, invite over your closest amies and make them a Paris dinner of Black Forest Croque Monsieur smothered in bubbling Gruyère, a crisp homemade profiterole stuffed with a giant scoop of strawberry ice cream and deluged with dark chocolate sauce, and to toast, a frozen Kir Royale made with cassis sorbet, black currant vodka, and pink champagne. Here are the recipes to go with the videos. So you can go out, and be French for a day.
Traditional profiteroles are cream puffs: little shells stuffed with pastry cream and drizzled with runny chocolate sauce. Delicious. But my version are made for summer: easy-as-pie homemade puffs, stuffed with bought strawberry ice cream (or you could go double-chocolate, or pistachio, or vanilla, or a traffic-light combination), doused in a super-thick dark chocolate sauce. The best chocolate-covered strawberry meets ice cream sundae meets Parisian dessert you ever put in your mouth. Bon app!
Thanks for visiting. Please do come back often. I am currently writing my first book of simple, chic, streamlined French recipes. And be sure to check out our Working Girl Dinners, a series of video recipes for novice after-work cooking for one or two that I promise anyone can pull off.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a saucepot over high heat, add the water and butter, sugar and salt. Cover, and bring to a boil.
Take the pan off the heat, and add in all the flour at once. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until the flour absorbs all the water. Return the pot to low heat, and continue stirring for 30 to 60 seconds, until the dough forms a ball, and pulls away from the sides of the pot.
Turn the dough out into a medium bowl. (Soak that pot now, thank me later!) Add one egg, and stir vigorously with the wooden spoon until it is completely absorbed and the dough is smooth. Repeat with the second egg. The dough will be smooth and sticky.
Use an ice cream scoop to make 4 equal mounds of dough on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. Dip your finger in water, and pat down any rough edges that might burn in the oven. Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350°F for another 40 minutes, until the profiterole shells are puffed, golden, and crisp. Carefully remove the shells to a rack to cool, and gently puncture the bottom of each puff with a skewer to let any steam escape.
When the profiteroles are completely cooled, take the ice cream out of the freezer to defrost.
Make the chocolate sauce by whisking together the cream and chocolate over medium-low heat, until thick, shiny, and melted. Use a serrated knife to slice each profiterole in half horizontally, then sandwich the shell around a big scoop of strawberry ice cream. Pour chocolate sauce over the profiteroles, and eat greedily.
If you want to thin out your chocolate sauce, add 1 tablespoon very hot water from the tap.
Croque Monsieurs are the French ultimate grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. I use nontraditional smoked Black Forest ham, Gruyère cheese that bubbles and melts and oozes, and a simple béchamel sauce spiked with hot Dijon mustard and heady nutmeg. Traditional Croque Monsieurs are best when served open-faced, and eaten with a fork and knife. The killer trick here is to have your baker slice your bread the wrong way–the long way–so you have giant bread slabs on which to pile are your scrumptious toppings. And people think it’s pretty cool.
1 large loaf unsliced white sandwich bread, sliced the wrong (long) way*
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
10 ounces grated Gruyère cheese, divided
Pinch ground nutmeg
Fine sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
½ pound Black Forest ham, sliced**
Preheat the broiler. Place the bread on 2 large baking sheets, 2 slices per sheet, and broil each slice of bread 1 minute on each side, to lightly toast. Set aside, and keep the broiler on.
Make the béchamel sauce by melting the butter in a medium saucepot over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour, and toast for 1 to 2 minutes, until bubbly and just turning golden. Whisk in the milk in a steady stream, and increase the heat to medium-high. Whisk continuously until the sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the Dijon mustard and 2 ounces of Gruyère. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
Assemble the sandwiches. Keeping the toasted bread on their baking sheets, top each slice of bread with one quarter of the ham. Cover the ham with a healthy layer of béchamel, making sure the sauce reaches to the crust, or it will burn under the broiler. Then top with one quarter of the remaining cheese. Broil 4 to 6 minutes, until cheese is completely melted and bubbling and turning golden. Serve with cornichons, and eat with a fork and knife!
*Buy your bread at a bakery, and have them slice it the wrong way through their slicing machine for you.
**This recipe is less about the recipe, and more about how you like to make a sandwich. Depending on how big your bread is, or how much ham or cheese you like, you may prefer different amounts. Trust your instincts!
I grew up thinking that the Kir Royale was the height of sophistication. Crème de Cassis, a black currant liqueur, topped with champagne. How very elegant! My version is, I like to think, younger and edgier: small scoops of black currant sorbet dropped into a champagne flute, doused in black currant vodka, and crowned with pink champagne. A little bit ironic, maybe, to toast the republic with a cocktail named for royalty, but when the sorbet starts to melt into that pink champagne (and when the vodka makes its way to your head) I doubt you’ll be waxing political.
To know me is to know I love Le 14 Juillet. I am religious in my observation of the occasion, because I simply love, when I’m not in France, wishing or pretending that I was. Two years ago, I ushered it in with Mr. English and Jane, my best friend from Le Cordon Bleu, on one of the ponts that arches its back across the Seine as the pastel (yes, pastel) fireworks erupted from the Eiffel Tower. A few years before that, it was all-drag Can Can on the bar at Florent, the only French diner I’ve ever heard of, before it closed its NYC Meatpacking doors forever. Another year, it was pétanque in the city. This year, I’m thinking merguez on the grill. But any great occasion deserves a little planning, so here’s a taste of all that you’ll be getting on French Rev between now and July 14. Whether you’ll be having just bread and water à la Bastille (how bad can that be if the bread and water are French?) or nothing but cake à la Mlle. Antoinette, you’ll find the party here.
If you’re looking to grill on Bastille Day (that’s next Thursday!), look no further. This recipe, from French in a Flash a few weeks ago, is just about the best grilled steak I’ve ever had. Inexpensive, but super-tender, beef tenderloin tips are encased in a salty crust of garlic, olive oil, and chopped fresh herbes de Provence: rosemary, thyme, savory, and others. Seared on the grill, and then sliced up–it’s tremendous, different, light, delicious. Because frankly, I wait all day for the one day where I can be as French as possible. And I’m definitely going to take advantage. Below, the original column.
And if you want to know how to cook perfect bistro steak, watch the video!