The blue mussel, (Mytilus edulis) is a crowning glory of the French shellfish world, and France is the second largest producer of this tasty morsel. They grow wild on many of the coasts of France, but they’re commercially cultivated in Normandy, Brittany, Gascony, and the Mediterranean. In those spots they filter the rich waters at ease, which makes their meat rich, tender, succulent.
What’s the reason for such culture in France? Well, it all has to do with an Irishman who shipwrecked off the coast of Gascony in 1235. He chased sea birds for a living in his native land, and it took him no time at all to establish himself and his craft in what would one day be called France, stretching nets between pilings pounded into the substrate. Much to his surprise, not only did he catch his birds but he found that mussels congregated on the pilings, attaching themselves in huge numbers by their “byssus” or beard, a stringy substance they shoot out (like Spiderman) to attach to whatever is in reach. Soon, instead of bird hunter, he became mussel grower.
France is Number Two Producer
One thing led to another and today, France is the second largest mussel producer in the EU, after Spain. The mollusks love the lively coastal French waters, where they are “planted” by mussel growers in a clever method based on the Irishman’s, which involves putting baby mussels in a long, narrow net “tube” which is wrapped around a piling, then supervising their growth. When they are deemed ready, beginning in July, boats go out, the nets are unwound from the pilings and the mussels are pulled off the net tubes.
Moules de Bouchot
It’s easy to recognize the gorgeous “moules de bouchot” whose name is copyrighted for quality purposes. They are small, their meat is plump, and they have a flavor unlike any other – a mix of sweet and brine that will have you dreaming of them long after your meal is done!
Here I steam them with white wine and a touch of curry, which may seem an odd spice for France but is quite typically used with mussels. And that has all to do with a young East Indian shipmate who landed in Brittany…but that is a story for another day!
AROMATIC MUSSELS WITH CURRY - MOULES AU CURRY
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 large (7ounce;210g) onion, diced
- 2 shallots diced
- 2 garlic cloves, green germ removed diced
- 2 teaspoons curry powder or to taste
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup;125ml white wine, such as Muscadet
- 3 pounds;1.5kg mussels, de-bearded (see ASTUCE)
- 1 bouquet garni
- Melt the butter in a large stockpot over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the onion, shallot and the garlic, stir and cook until the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle with the curry powder and the turmeric and cook for a minute or two, stirring, then pour over the wine. Stir, add the mussels and the bouquet garni and shake the pot. Increase the heat to medium-high heat and when the wine begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook until the mussels open, shaking the pot from time to time, 7 to 8 minutes. If the mussels are only open partially, you can continue to cook for another minute.
- Remove the pot from the heat and turn the mussels into a warmed serving dish. If there are any mussels that aren’t open, remove and discard.