“A refreshing way to eat mussels on a hot day” is how author Caroline Conran describes this dish, which is served at L’Estagnol restaurant in Narbonne, located in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region. The area is sometimes called “the other south of France”; gastronomically speaking, there’s much Spanish influence — Catalonian, in particular.
The recipe comes from Conran’s book “Sud de France: The Food and Cooking of Languedoc” (Prospect Books, 2012), which gives a thorough accounting of foods enjoyed there. It affords the opportunity to eat mussels without the usual accompanying steam facial that comes from working through a bowl of them, and the sauce takes minutes to prepare.
Served after a first-course summer soup or with a green salad, these mussels are just as Conran describes them. Makes 2 or 3 servings.
2 pounds fresh mussels
1 large shallot plus 1 or 2 medium shallots
1 cup dry white wine
2 or 3 cornichons
1 to 2 tablespoons drained capers
1 or 2 sprigs tarragon
1 stem flat-leaf parsley
4 to 6 chives
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
3 to 4 tablespoons creme fraiche
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Place serving plates and a rimmed baking sheet in the refrigerator to chill.
Clean and debeard the mussels; tap on any that are chipped, cracked or slightly open. If they do not close, discard them.
Cut the large shallot into chunks. Mince the medium shallots to yield 1/3 cup (for the sauce). Combine the shallot chunks and white wine in a large pot over medium-high heat. Once the wine comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and add the mussels. Cover and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, shaking the pot once or twice.
Meanwhile, mince the cornichons, capers (to taste), tarragon, parsley and chives, placing those ingredients in a medium bowl as you work. Add the reserved 1/3 cup of minced shallot, along with the mustard and creme fraiche (to taste). Gradually whisk in the oil to form a slightly thickened sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (If you tend to chop slowly, finish making the sauce while the mussels are cooling.)
Use a Chinese skimmer to transfer the steamed mussels to the chilled baking sheet, spreading them in a single layer to cool. Discard the cooking liquid and any mussels that have not opened.
As soon as the mussels are just cool enough to handle, discard the empty halves of the shells.
Arrange the shells with mussels attached on the individual chilled plates. Spoon a little sauce on each mussel.
Serve right away.