“We really need to start making different meals than what we usually make for dinner.” I said to AJ as I surveyed my stack of cookbooks. I’m ashamed to own nearly 400 cookbooks and I have a habit of reaching for the same 10 recipes for dinner. Granted a good 3/4 of my books are baking books, but that leaves a stack of 100 cookbooks that I could conceivably use to make a savory meal from. Instead I make chicken pot-pie, from basically the same recipe I put on this blog three years ago. Not that I don’t love that recipe but I’m in a rut. Thank goodness mussels and fries are there to rescue us from the dinner doldrums. Turns out it’s an easy dinner for two! (Jump directly to the recipe.)
I glanced down at my stack under my desk, where my legs should go (but don’t – it’s a sacrifice, I know). I close my eyes, random pick a cookbook. My fingers land on Bakeless Sweets by Faith Durand. A great book but not what I’m going to use for making dinner (as much as I would love a dinner made entirely of various puddings). I look at the one just underneath it: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Done! I’m seeing what Deb would make for dinner. Her blog inspires hundreds of thousands, I’m sure her book will do the same for me.
A quick perusal of the cookbook found me staring at her recipe for mussels in vermouth. It seems easy, deceptively easy in fact. Why have I never made mussels at home before? I filed that information away when I went to our local store to pick up ingredients for a different meal, meatloaf, something I haven’t made in ages but I was having a hankering for. Next to the butcher counter, I notice the mussels were only $6/lb. I made a mental note of that price.
I kind of adore my meatloaf recipe (remind me to post about it one of these days) but I knew I wanted to try making mussels soon. In the back of my head I remember a super easy way to make French fries from scratch that I read in an old Cook’s Illustrated. Could I make the classic Belgian Moules et Pommes Frites dinner for two? Turns out I can. Fast and easy too! The meal was done in about an hour. Talk about a way to impress! If I were single, this would be the go-to meal that I would use to get lucky on my first date. But since I’m not single that night my partner and I were both lucky. With this meal people! This meal. Get your mind out of the gutter.
Mussels and Fries
By Irvin Lin
Cook’s Illustrated published this recipe a few years ago, based on a technique developed by French Chef Jöel Robuchon where the potatoes are placed in room temperature oil and brought to boil and fried. The traditional method of double frying the potatoes isn’t necessary as the initial cooking of the potatoes is taken care of while the oil heats up. Just make sure to use Yukon Gold potatoes or Yellow Finn potatoes. Russets will turn dry and leathery (and no, sweet potatoes won’t work either so don’t even try). Chop the potatoes and place them in the Dutch oven with the oil first, then make the mussels. As long as you remember to set the timer for the fries, they pretty much make themselves. Dinner in about an hour!
1/2 cup chopped thick cut bacon, cut (about 4 to 5 slices)
2 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes
6 cups rice bran oil (peanut or regular vegetable oil works too)
salt to taste
Mussels in Shallots and Vermouth
3 pounds mussels
1 cup chopped shallots (about 5 large ones)
3 tablespoons minced garlic (about 12 large cloves)
3 tablespoons butter, unsalted
3 tablespoons olive oil, extra virgin
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence (optional)
3/4 cup chopped Roma tomatoes (about 3 medium tomatoes)
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 1/2 cup dry vermouth
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
A couple slices of crusty bread, toasted to sop up the mussel sauce
1. Place a double layer of paper towels on a rimmed baking sheet and place a wire rack on top of it. Line a bowl with a double layer of paper towels. Place the chopped bacon in a large heavy Dutch oven or pot. Cook the bacon until done and all the fat is rendered out. Move the cooked bacon to the lined bowl, leaving the rendered fat in the Dutch oven.
2. Wash and scrub the potatoes. Dry them with a towel and then cut them into 1/4-inch thick fries. Place in a large heavy Dutch oven with the bacon fat. Pour the oil over the potatoes until they are covered completely and turn the heat to high. Bring the oil to a rapid boil and let cook for about 13-15 minutes without stirring. You want the potatoes to have softened and are slightly limp, but the exterior of the potatoes are starting to crisp.
3. Gently stir the potatoes with tongs. Make sure any potatoes at the bottom of the pot aren’t sticking. Continue to let the potatoes fry for an additional 7- 10 minutes or until the fries are crisp on the outside. Scoop the fries out with a mesh skimmer or spider strainer spoon and place on the wire rack over the baking sheet. Salt to taste and serve immediately.
4. While the oil is heating up and the fries are cooking, rinse the mussels in cold water and discard any that don’t close when you tap them or have broken shells. Place in a large bowl with ice water and let sit for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile chop the shallots and mince the garlic. Place the shallots in a large pot with the butter, virgin olive oil and Herbes de Provence (if using). Heat the pot on medium to melt the butter and sauté the shallots for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes until the shallots become translucent.
5. While shallots and garlic are cooking, chop the tomatoes, parsley, and oregano. Make sure to take frequent breaks in chopping to stir the shallots and garlic, so they don’t burn. Once the shallots are done, add the tomatoes, 1/2 the parsley, fresh thyme, saffron and dry vermouth. Bring to a boil.
6. While you wait for the liquid to boil, scoop the soaking mussels into a colander (don’t dump, you want to scoop them out with your hands). The sand expelled by the mussels should settle to the bottom of the bowl. Rinse the mussels again and cut or pull off any stray beards that are still attached to the mussels (pull toward the bottom hinge, not away). Once the liquid is at a boil, add the mussels to the pot and cover. Let the mussels steam in the liquid for about 8 to 10 minutes until they are all open, occasionally shaking the pot to make sure the bottom ones don’t burn. Discard any that don’t open. Pour the mussels and sauce into a large bowl. Garnish with the reserved parsley and the reserve bacon. Serve hot with toasted bread and fresh made fries.
Serves two (generously).
If you like this easy meal, check out a few more easy meals from around the web (someone make these for me now!):
This Week for Dinner’s Easy Spaghetti Carbonara
What’s Gaby Cooking’s Mexican Lasagna
Cravings of a Lunatic’s guest post for The Shiksa in the Kitchen’s: 40 Clove Garlic Chicken
Emily Bites’ Chicken Enchilada Skillet
Gimme Some Oven’s Easy Pepper Steak