Flex!

RECIPE: Pesto Mussels

At La Tour, NYC

scroll down for these recipes:

Moules Dijonnaise, and frites

Mussels with Saffron, Vermouth, and Harissa, and sweet frites

Moules au Pistou, and grilled garlic peasant bread

My first encounter with those baffling little mussels left me bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. When I was a child, I would gaze horrified as the steaming obsidian pile would be plucked, prodded, and consumed, growing into an equally obsidian if somewhat less steaming pile of shells in an identical bowl sitting across the table from me and in front of a relative as plump and warm as the shellfish themselves. But as sure as we all grow into adults who gain utility bills and inherit crystal champagne flutes, so too do we shed childhood prejudices and inherit our families’ gastronomic sensibilities. At the risk of appearing too hypocritical to my younger and more convictional self, I have changed my mind about the little dark darlings. As a mussel addict, and a young lady, I must admit I find them both as intimidating and mesmerizing as their homonym. I eat mussels in vast portions, and always relish an evening spent besotted by my briny pals. Luckily, however, you don’t need steroids to accomplish the perfect set of mussels.

I am shining the spotlight this week on the mussel because on my recent trip to New York, I walked by my very favorite mussel outpost: La Tour, formerly of Third Avenue and the upper Seventies. There, for something like $18.50, you could get all the moules and frites you could eat, à volonté, in any combination of three traditional sauces: marinière (white wine, garlic, onion, and parsley), provençal (tomato, wine, garlic, and basil), or my personal predilection, à la moutarde (mustard and wine). I have spent many a long and friendly evening perched on one of La Tour’s Parisian banquets drowning in steaming mustard sauce and cool, citrine Sancerre. It was closed!

But necessity is the mother of invention, as I’ve said before, and if La Tour cannot provide, then I must create. In this edition of French Revolution, you’ll find three different ways to prepare mussels, and some little accompaniments for the black pearls. Interestingly, the idea for French Revolution came to me at a mussels restaurant on the beach in Normandy. French food, to me, had always been one of those dichotomies that coexist sensibly only in the minds of far-Eastern contemplatives. On the one hand, it was the Madison Avenue bistro, with five forks of various sizes, uses, and timeliness, straight-backed chairs, waiters who dressed even more expensively than I did, and a menu accessible to me only because I was the daughter of a Parisian mother. On the other hand, I had my Parisian mother to thank for my first impression of French food: casual, traditional, elegant, whimsical, and, surtout, delicious. She would roast duck à l’orange and fry fresh frites that we would then eat with our hands in bed watching old black and white sitcoms. Which of the two was “la vraie cuisine française”?

In Normandy, the origin of the moule-frite fiesta, I was served my large pile of onyx mussels in an equally large and equally onyx cast iron kettle over a lively, waltzing votive flame. Around me was arranged my frites, my salade verte, my baguette, and a smattering of friends, family, and beer—all necessary at such an event. But one thing was missing: my seafood fork. I asked my mother if she had one. No. We both looked around. To me, French food had always been something to eat not with petite cutlery, mais avec les mains! And all around me, there were French people proving my point. Instead of a seafood fork to pluck the little diamonds from the rough, the Normans were using an attached set of shells as pincers. A large half-shell replaced a soup spoon as the utensil for lapping up all the mussels’ delicious winey liquor. Through the shells the Normans plunged, vite, vite, vite, all you can eat. French food can mean gossamer cages of sugar and mother of pearl caviar spoons, but je préfère manger avec les mains!

Mussels make the perfect meal for many reasons. They are cheap, often costing as little as $3 per pound. They are a one-pot wonder. They are cooked to perfection in under ten minutes—including prep time. The French often use them not only as a staple of their own cuisine, but as a canvas on which to demonstrate French technique with exotic flavors like curry or, here, saffron and harissa. They can be eaten delicately and politely with that infamous seafood fork, or eaten greedily with the shells themselves. They are elegant and classic while being simultaneously casual and welcoming. I challenge you to suggest another food so versatile or simple or impressive…or cheap! I think there is nothing better than serving mussels at a formal gathering—there is nothing better to break the ice then passing around the steaming bowl or calling for more bread or frites. Plus, a good working knowledge of mussels will always leave you looking cultured…

Here, I offer three very quick and easy and flavorful renditions of the traditional mussels “stew.” The first is my La Tour favorite, moules à la moutarde, made with two kinds of mustard, white wine, and thyme, and served with matchstick French fries and baguette. I also like to leave a pot of Dijon on the table to dip the bread and frites in. The dish is tangy and creamy and classic. Next is an exotic departure to Morocco, the former protectorate of France that had such an influence on its cuisine. This recipe uses saffron and the red-hot Moroccan red pepper relish harissa, and I like to serve it with something slightly and delightfully different: sweet frites. The last recipe is moules au pistou, or Mussels with Pesto, which is by far the quickest and easiest mussel recipe and is perfect for a summer day. All it requires is mussels, wine, and fresh bought pesto sauce. I like to serve it with garlicky grilled peasant bread.

Some notes to keep in mind when making mussels: When cleaning, de-beard and rinse. Also, a good way to make the mussels spit out any sand they might be ruminating is to soak them in a large bowl of cold water with a tablespoon of flour. Remember, leave sand in an oyster and get a pearl. Leave sand in a mussel and lose a tooth! To be honest, I often disregard both precautions. I generally use 3 pounds of mussels to feed 4 people.

But this rule you cannot disregard: before the mussels are cooked, discard any that are open. After the mussels are cooked, discard any that are closed.

With these recipes, you’ll have no excuse to wrinkle your nose at the little beasts or be as bothered or bewildered as I was. Now get in that kitchen and show off those mussels!

Moules Dijonnaise

Moules Dijonnaise

Moules Dijonnaise

3 pounds of mussels

1-2 tablespoons of olive oil

½ onion, thinly sliced

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon of whole grain mustard

1 cup of dry white wine
2 sprigs of thyme

2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Salt and pepper

  1. Heat the olive oil in a wide, deep, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, and then the garlic, and a pinch of salt. Sauté until they are translucent and fragrant—just a couple of minutes.
  3. Whisk in the wine and mustards, along with the thyme, which you can leave right on the stems, as long as you remember to fish them out later. Season with a bit more salt and a good bit of freshly cracked black pepper.
  4. Add the mussels, and cover, allowing them to steam open. After 4-6 minutes, they should all have opened. Toss in the verdant shower of parsley, and serve immediately with fresh frites (see below) and hunks of torn warm baguette.
Frites

Frites

To serve à côté: Frites

2 Idaho potatoes, cut into thick matchsticks

Olive oil and vegetable oil for frying

Course salt

  1. Usually due to necessity, but also for flavor and high cooking temperature, I often mix my oils, using 2 parts vegetable oil to one part olive oil. Fill a large heavy-bottomed pan no more than half way up with this combination of oils, and heat the oil on medium heat until it has reached 350 degrees.
  2. Send in a test pilot: drop in a fry that you will want to snack on to see if the oil is at the correct temperature. If it sinks to the bottom, the oil is too cold. If it fizzles up immediately, the oil is too hot. It should sink and then rise gently, buoyed up by little bubbles of frying oil.
  3. Add the potato matchsticks in batches. You have a choice here: fry once for a great French fry, fry twice for the perfect frite. Between batches, or between first (the blanching stage) and second fries, remove the potatoes to a cooling rack or several layers of paper towel or both.
  4. Dust the hot fries with a wise pinch of salt.

Mussels with Saffron and Harissa

Mussels with Saffron, Vermouth, and Harissa

3 pounds of mussels

¾ cup of dry white wine

¼ cup of dry vermouth

Pinch of saffron

2 shallots, sliced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon of harissa

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, wide, heavy-bottomed pan.
  2. Sauté the shallot for less than 1 minute until fragrant.
  3. Pour off the vermouth into a separate glass, take the pan off the heat, and add in the liquor. Return the pan to the heat, and add the wine.
  4. Add in the saffron and the harissa—most harissa is fairly salty so taste before adding extra salt. Let these two bloom in the sauce for 30 seconds.
  5. Add in the mussels and cover, just long enough for the mussels to open—less than five minutes. Serve immediately with sweet potato fries (see below).

To serve à côté: Sweet Frites

2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into thick matchsticks

Vegetable oil and olive oil for frying

Course salt

Follow the same steps as if you were making plain frites (see above), but use the sweet potato instead.

Pesto Mussels

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds of mussels
  • ½ cup of dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons of prepared fresh pesto sauce

Procedure

  1. Add the pesto and wine to a large, deep pan. Heat them over medium heat until they begin to simmer.
  2. Add the mussels and cover until they have steamed open—about five minutes.
  3. A great way to make this dish more luxurious would be to add just a hint of cream, or, instead, add a selection of halved colorful summer tiny tomatoes (they look like heirloom cherries) to a tablespoon of hot oil before adding the wine and pesto to the pan. Their skin will crackle, and they will erupt a bit, mingling their sweetness and sun-burst texture with the sauce.

Grilled Garlic Peasant Bread Ingredients

  • ½ round of peasant bread
  • Olive oil for drizzling
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • Course salt

Grilled Garlic Peasant Bread Procedure

  1. Preheat a grill pan over medium heat.
  2. Cut the bread into thick slices, and then cut them in half again.
  3. Char the bread lightly on the grill, 2-3 minutes per side.
  4. Rub the hot bread with the cut end of a garlic clove. The garlic will melt into the bread…move onto the next clove as it dissolves away.
  5. Finish the grilled garlic bread with a light drizzling of golden olive oil and a sprinkling of course salt.
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Categories: 15 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Fish, For a Crowd, Main Courses, Recipes
 

Primavera!

RECIPE: Pomegranate Mushrooms

scroll down for these recipes…

Asparagus Bouquets

Pomegranate Mushrooms

Haricots Verts du Sud

I have been home to New York City this week, and though it may be belated, the balmy sunshine and those magnificent cherry blossoms in the park have affirmed, SPRING is here! After a long, grey, and dismal English winter, I feel like Persephone returning to Central Park after a six-month stint in Hades. I can now toss out those vases of English roses and darling daffodils with which I had attempted to turn my room into a spring hot house…because now it is finally safe to go outside.

When I’m in New York, I eat—but, truth be told, I rarely ever cook. Being back for only a week, I frequented some of my favorite restaurants, like Otto and Vespa, and tried a new one: BLT Market. In every restaurant, spring was in the menu. BLT Market, chef Laurent Tourondel’s homage to the local farm market, lists the current prime crop on the side of its monthly-changing menu. This month: scallops and artichokes—two of my favorites! At Mario Batali’s Otto, my mother and I tucked into the week’s special pasta, penne primavera, sparkling with slivered garlic, spinach, asparagus, and fresh fava beans. At Vespa, my neighborhood favorite, we dined, as we do at the beginning of every spring, al fresco in the back garden peppered with hanging lanterns and cascading flower petals. There we sampled the orecchiette with pesto and zucchini, carrots, broccolini, and peas. The vegetables were seasonal, fresh, tender and crisp, and never boring. They were the emerald, the malachite, the jade and peridot of the meal, the main event against the background of pasta, the enhancer, the priority. Even when I sat in Central Park ready to enjoy my hotdog (I heart NY), a blossom fluttered down and landed in my mustard! Spring is everywhere, from the Union Square farmers’ market to the hotdog stand on 64th and Fifth Avenue.

I think the first bud of spring in French Revolution was last week’s recipe for minty, buttery petits pois, a nod to my adopted English hometown. And now that I come to think of it, it being so early on and all, I don’t suppose we’ve been properly introduced. My name is Kerry, and I was a vegetarian (“hi, Kerry”) for twelve years when I was growing up. Though I’ve since returned to eating meat, I can never eat much of it, and I still absolutely adore vegetables. Artfully executed vegetables garner far more praise from me than any “main dish,” and they’re the only thing I ever return to for seconds.

And yet, vegetables are so often the unfortunate sidekick, the best friend, but never the star. I blame water. Every house I went to for dinner as a kid had roasted chicken, pilaf-ed rice, and then plain boiled vegetables, forlorn and limp on a platter full of tasteless condensation. Poor little things. Positively neglected! And that would be my dinner…but really, I can’t get mad at ignorance. I just have to educate, and here is the first rule: boiling vegetables is barely ever acceptable, unless a superb vinaigrette is involved. Think about when you sit in the bath for too long: you emerge pruny, dizzy, and lazy. You may tolerate such a condition in yourself, but you certainly should not when it comes to your dinner!

Variety is the spice of life, and the trick to vegetables is to find a medley of ways to keep them as intact as possible. That is to say, compact the flavor; don’t dilute it. Roast, grill, sauté, marinate. It’s amazing how it’s even easier to roast a vegetable than to boil it, and the economy in time invests millions in taste. You bring out the best in the vegetable, allowing the natural sugars to caramelize and develop, and you create simple pairings that display the vegetable to advantage. For example, sometimes, ironically, bringing out the best in a vegetable means to add a touch of meat, like in my asparagus bouquets, roasted in a hot oven with woodsy rosemary and fragrant olive oil, served wrapped in a ribbon of smoked bacon. The crisp freshness of spring paired with the warm comfort of a log cabin. Mushrooms are little sponges, and in my pomegranate mushrooms, the baby portobellos soak in a bath of pomegranate juice, red wine, and fresh thyme, so that they burst with flavor as they pop in your mouth. Haricots verts du sud, my most requested vegetable dish by far (my dear friend Anna can eat a whole pound of it herself!), stews delicate French green beans with the Côte d’Azur flavors of tomatoes, wine, and garlic. The recipes take only a few minutes, and even fewer ingredients, but vegetables come to your table, like to Central Park, alive and lively after a long, cold, boring winter.

As we walked through Central Park, my mother reminded me, despite the hectic city coursing and pulsing around us, to stop and smell the roses—and tulips and daffodils and cherry blossoms cropping out of the concrete all around us. That’s good advice, and so is her other lifelong axiom: eat your vegetables!

Asparagus Bouquets

Asparagus Bouquets

Asparagus Bouquets

1 pound of asparagus, with the ends snapped off

1 twig of fresh rosemary, leaved and chopped

1 tablespoon of olive oil

3 slices of bacon, cut in half longwise

Salt and pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Toss the asparagus with the olive oil, chopped rosemary, and salt and pepper. Divide into 4-6 bundles, depending on how many servings you wish to present. Wrap each bundle in 1 ribbon of bacon, and set onto a foil-lined baking sheet.
  3. Roast for 15-18 minutes, until the asparagus are tender but not overdone, and the bacon is crisp. You may want to drain them on a paper towel.
Haricots Verts du Sud

Haricots Verts du Sud

Haricots Verts du Sud

1 pound of haricots verts, trimmed

1 14.5-ounce can of petite diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

¼ cup of dry white wine

1 clove of garlic, minced

½ shallot, minced

1-2 tablespoons of olive oil

  1. Heat the olive oil and drop the shallot and garlic into it, allowing them to soften on medium heat for about 45 seconds. Follow with the tomato paste and haricots verts.
  2. Allow to soften for about 5 minutes, and add the wine and tomatoes, along with salt and pepper.
  3. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the beans are tender.

BON APP!

Pomegranate Mushrooms

Pomegranate MushroomsIngredients

  • 1 pound of cremini mushrooms, halved
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 3 leaves of fresh sage, sliced (optional)
  • ¼ cup of dry red wine
  • ¼ cup of pomegranate juice

Procedure

  1. Heat the butter and oil in the pan, and add the shallots, mushrooms, thyme (right on the branch), and the sage. Do not season the mushrooms until they get good color on them.
  2. When they are nicely caramelized on medium to medium-high heat, add the salt, pepper, wine, and juice, and lower the heat to medium-low. Allow the liquid to thicken, and serve.


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Categories: Eat, Recipes, Sides, Vegetables, Vegetarian
 

Fish, No Chips

RECIPE: Crispy Salmon with Lemon Dijon Crème Fraîche

Scroll down for these recipes…

Crispy Salmon with Lemon-Dijon Creme Fraiche

Crispy Couscous Sole with Cornichon-Dill Tartar Sauce

Minty, Buttery Petits Pois

Six months have passed since I moved to England to begin my masters at Oxford. And oh boy, have I learned a lot! Oh, sure, I’ve made plenty of headway into literature, but I think, not surprisingly, my greatest strides have been made in that little known Faculty of Food.

Before I left New York, as I was packing my bags full of Hunter wellies and F. Scott Fitzgerald novels, I decided to disregard all those combative rumors that while England’s economy ranks somewhere near the world’s pinnacle, its food lurks nearer to the nadir. But I had been here before, and I loved cheddar cheese, and I figured every lunch would be fish and chips and mushy peas with a pint of some country ale or other.

But what happens when you assume? You make an a**–of you and me…or rather, I began to lose mine, quite unexpectedly. I will not affirm the rumors and say that England has bad food, because it simply isn’t true. What I will say is that moving to another country, even one from which one’s own culture is descended, provides unforeseen obstacles, like opening a bank account in foreign currency, or realizing that a cheddar cheese sandwich in Oxford generally means cheese mashed together with butter and mayonnaise and green onion and slathered onto white bloomer loaf. It’s not bad; it’s just not what one expected.

So my meals the first week continued as such: it was like gulping a glass of seltzer only to realize too late that it was Sprite—again, not bad, but unexpected. Finally, I gave up spending those expensive pounds on meals that went unenjoyed, and retreated to that collegiate Oxford haven, the kebab van. My new Iranian friends greeted me in New York fashion, with neighborly grins and chat, and they furnished one of my two meals a day. The first was a plain toasted English muffin (when in Rome…or, London), and the second was—it shames me to admit it—a Styrofoam box of well-salted chips. Or, as I called them at the time, “French fries.” No mushy peas. No beer-battered fish. No ale. I was a fish out of water; and all I ate was chips. Which is strangely how I began to lose my “assumptions.”

But what an Oxford education I’ve received—after all, necessity is the mother of invention, and I soon realized that a diet, however slimming, made up exclusively of my favorite food in the entire world, frites…comme c’est si bon!, lacked both vitamins and variety. As when one immerses oneself in a foreign language and comes out fluent, I, armed with my new British best friends and boyfriend, started with the pubs and worked my way up and down the English food scene, and I have to sing, God Save Sainsbury’s! The supermarkets in England have flowers that last two weeks, and produce cheaper and more gem-like in taste and color than any flaccid zucchini I’ve come across in Gristedes. I have friends in low places, like my favorite smoked cheese and mushroom pie that comes with mash and mushy peas and currant gravy for “a fiver,” and in high places, like Gee’s, that serves the most succulent sea scallops in truffled zabaglione in a Victorian greenhouse.

It just goes to show that you should always expect, and embrace, the unexpected. I still visit my friends at the kebab van, but my boyfriend lately remarked that it had been long enough, and I should get back to my recipes and French Revolution, now that I had a handle on the English gastronomy. And besides, he protested, “I haven’t actually TASTED any of this stuff!” So, for my first foray back at the front, I decided that since we are on an island, and it’s traditional and all, I was going to start with fish, no chips this time.

Below are deux recettes for poisson—salmon and lemon sole. And for the sole, I include two alternate preparations. The first recipe, for the salmon, is a twist on the restaurant classic, Dijon baked salmon. This recipe, however, is less obstructed by the severity of the mustard, and is made decadent with the addition of crème fraîche. It came out marvelously!

For the sole, I did a French-Moroccan twist on Fish and Chips. I crust the filet in dry couscous and pan fry it, and serve it with a cornichon-dill tartar sauce and minty, buttery spring peas. Alternatively, you could serve it as a crisp Sole Meuniere.

As always, these recipes are simple, fresh, witty, and, like frites, si bon. Enjoy, and bon app!

Crispy Couscous Fish

Crispy Couscous Fish

Crispy Couscous Sole with Cornichon-Dill Tartar Sauce

2 filets of lemon sole, with no bones or skin

Flour for dredging

1 egg, beaten

Couscous for dredging

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

  1. Bread the sole with the couscous: first season the fish with salt and pepper. Next dredge each filet in flour and dust of the excess. Then dip them into the beaten egg. Next dredge them in the couscous.
  2. Heat enough oil in a large skillet to coat the bottom—over medium high heat. Lay the fish in the hot oil and fry for 3 minutes per side.

2 tablespoons of mayonnaise

2 tablespoons of crème fraîche

4 cornichons, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh dill

1 teaspoon of capers, chopped

1 teaspoon of grain mustard

1 teaspoon of lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients and serve à côté du poisson!

For crispy Sole Meuniere, after removing the cooked sole from the pan, turn down the heat and add the juice of 1 lemon and 3-4 tablespoons of cold butter. Swirl around until the butter is just melted and combined with lemon, then toss in a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley and pour over the fish.

Minty, Buttery Petits Pois

190 grams of fresh shelled peas

1 ½ tablespoons of butter

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint

Salt

  1. Bring half a pot of water to a boil, and season with salt.
  2. Drop in the peas and boil for 5 minutes. Drain.
  3. Return the peas to the warm pot and stir in some salt, the butter, and the mint.

bon app!

Crispy Salmon with Lemon Dijon Crème Fraîche

Salmon with MustardSalmon Ingredients

  • 2 filets of salmon, skin on
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • Salt and pepper

Salmon Procedure

  1. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Rub the butter on the skin of the salmon filet, 1 tablespoon per filet
  2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat until the oil is quite hot
  3. Lay the salmon in the pan, skin side down, and leave to cook for 6 minutes, until the skin is crisp
  4. Flip the salmon over, lower the heat slightly, and allow the flesh side to crisp for 3 minutes.

Sauce Ingredients

  • ¼ cup of crème fraîche
  • Zest of ¾ lemon
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of whole grain mustard
  • 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper

Sauce Procedure

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Spoon a dollop onto each piece of hot salmon.
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Categories: Eat, Fish, Main Courses, Recipes
 

Bienvenue…

Thank you for visiting French Revolution! Here, you will find, certainly, articles about my personal tête à têtes with food, but more importantly, you will find the recipes that result. The philosophy of French Revolution, founded in my French mother’s New York City kitchen, is that French food is not about rows of mysterious cutlery or gossamer sugar cages that one looks at and does not eat. The French food I grew up on is the Madeleine before school and the roasted duck and frites in bed watching Family Ties. To that end, I have developed recipes that flirt with French food, admiringly yet irreverently mess it around a little. French food, to me, is like its cousin, the Chanel suit. It is classic and perfect, but still perfectly amenable to being updated. And in that vein, as Coco Chanel said, “Before leaving the house, take one thing off.” I have simplified and modernized these tongue-in-cheek, whimsical French recipes that leave the plate, once empty, reverberating with something fresh and current and above all, si bon. Bon app!

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