To me, Moules Mariniere will always remind me of a week I spent in Normandy, in a small town named Barfleur, with my close friends Yiyina and Ricardo. Now, these two are not just close friends, they are very special friends. They've taken care of me when I was ill and they have shared with me some of the most fantastic gastronomic experiences anyone can have. The three of us have travelled together many times for long periods of time, renting houses all over France, our favorite spot. That's not easy, not with two women who are great friends and one husband to share! Goes to show you how special they are.
Several years ago, we rented a Captains House in the harbour on Barfleur. I imagine it was similar to the ones in Nantucket. It was a charming house, but very, very uncomfortable. The wonderful thing was it's location, right smack in front of the harbour, where we could see the fishing boats come in and out, day in day out. That's all we did the first two days of our stay... sit by the window and watch the boats unload their catch.
It was fascinating to watch the tides. In low tide it was as if the water had been completely drained out of the harbour, just like Mont Saint Michel, but more dramatic. When the tide came back in, in came the fishing fleet and all the boats in the harbour straightened out again!
The main street surrounding the harbour was full of small family owned restaurants with signs advertising Moules Frites. That's not fried mussels like I thought at first, rather Moules Mariniere, with french fries on the side. Works for me...
As long as I live, every time I see moules on a recipe or in a menu, I will think of Barfleur and my friends the Bosques. Tonight, I was checking my blog when I saw this recipe from the James Beard Foundation. I have taken out the salt, as mussels are pretty salty on their own, as well as the tabasco sauce. No hot moules for me. The rest are pretty standard ingredients for Moules Mariniere. Make sure you have plenty of fresh, crusty baguettes on hand to soak up the buttery, aromatic broth. A nice, well chilled Muscadet is wonderful with shellfish and perfect for another great summer lunch, particularly if you have weekend guests at the beach! It is also inexpensive.
2 to 3 quarts mussels, scrubbed and bearded
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 to 3 sprigs parsley
1 stick unsalted butter
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup white wine
½ cup chopped parsley
Place the garlic, onion, parsley sprigs, 4 tablespoons of the butter, salt, and pepper in a large pot. Add the mussels and pour the wine over them. Cover tightly and cook over low heat until the shells open.
Transfer the mussels to a soup tureen or serving dish. Add the remaining butter and chopped parsley to the pot. Adjust the seasoning and serve the mussels in soup plates along with some of the broth and plenty of crusty bread.
Historic Significance of Barfleur
In the Middle Ages Barfleur was one of the chief ports of embarkation for England
1066 - A large medallion fixed to a rock in the harbour marks the Norman departure from Barfleur before the Battle of Hastings.
1120 - The White Ship, carrying Prince William, only legitimate son of Henry I of England, went down outside the harbour.
1154 - Henry II and his consort, Eleanor of Aquitaine, took ship from Barfleur despite the weather and survived the crossing.
1194 - Richard I of England departed from Barfleur on return to England following his captivity by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor.
1692 - Battles of Barfleur and La Hougue
Our house was the third house from the left, next to the white house. The photos of Barfleur are from Flickr. The photo of the mussels from the James Beard Foundation.
7/26: For a wonderful recipe for Moules Provencal with Fennel try this one from Marc Bittman!