For this dish, it is most important to select good mussels. This means: if they are sold loose (not in a bag), make sure that none of the ones you select are open or have a broken shell (you don't know what swam in and out of that broken point and an open mussel is a dead mussel). If you do have to buy them by the bag, do your best and get an extra half lb because you will likely end up throwing out quite a few in any batch. All of that said, the grocer you choose will have a lot to do with the quality. I can't recommend any specialty places outside of NYC but your two no-no's are 1)general grocery store 2) Chinatown (unless you already have a connection there and you know exactly what you're getting).
Ok, so you have mussels - what now? Clean each one under running (COLD) water and clean of the beard (scraggly bit around the edges of the shell - this helps the mussel filter out the sand and will not be as prevalent on a farmed one, so don't worry if it isn't there) by pulling it gently until it comes off. *When the beard comes off, the mussel is now deceased - don't do this and let them sit over night. If you don't have a scrub brush to go over each shell, hold it in your palms and brush across the shell with your thumbs. If you don't get the sand off the shells, it's going to end up in the broth you're making. Once cleaned, set aside. *If you do need to store them for a few hours, put them in an ice bath with room for the water to drip down instead of into the mussels.
Before you begin the next phase (actual cooking), I would advise that you prep all of the other ingredients because it's a fairly straight shot from here.
Use a wide bottomed saucepan (the Chef I cooked with favored a sautoir and I agree) and heat on medium-high for a few seconds before adding your butter and olive oil. Once the mixture is melted, add the shallots and saute for 2 minutes before adding the garlic. Let sit for another minute or less (do not brown - if these start to brown, turn the heat down to medium) and then add the wine, thyme, salt, pepper, tomato paste, let come to a boil, and simmer for 3 minutes.
The next thing you are going to add is Pernod. I didn't know what this was before I stepped into the ICE kitchen, so don't worry if you have no idea what it is either. Basically, it is a Gatorade yellow, anise flavored liquer. As ICE Chef Melanie Cecilio put it, "It makes the mussels mussel-ier," and is very important to the dish. That said, Sambuca or Pastis will do in a pinch.
NOW you can add the mussels. Cover the pot and let simmer for 5-6 minutes (when all of the mussels have opened, you are done). Add half of the parsley, stir, and ladle the whole dish (broth included) into a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining parsley.
Final step: it's called Moules 'Frites' so traditionally, you would have a heap of shoestring fries on the plate as well but I prefer grilled bread. Using a trick I learned in the ICE French cooking class (thank you Chef Melanie), you place a skillet or cast iron grill pan on high heat for a few seconds. Brush one side of your bread slice (a good baguette slice works well) with olive oil and lay, brushed side down, on the grill. Let sit for 2-3 minutes (it will give off some smoke, so turn on a fan!), until it is a nice golden brown and has grill marks across it (if you are using a grill/grill pan). Next, flip the slice and let the other side warm for 30 seconds at most - this side should remain soft.
Ok, you can eat now. Bon appetite!
- 2 1/2 lbs mussles
- 2 tblsp butter
- 2 tblsp olive oil
- 1/2 c minced shallots (2 medium shallots)
- 1/4 c minced garlic (5 cloves)
- 1 c white wine (Muscadet is best)
- 3 sprigs fresh or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1-2 pinches black pepper
- 2 tsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp Pernod
- 1/3 c chopped, flat leaf parsley
- sliced bread (day old baguette is best)