Saturday Dinner: Moules Marinières Avec Bacon

I feel bad for people who do not or cannot eat shellfish. Religion and allergies really get in the way of having a good time. I can take or leave lobster but I don’t get enough crab. Shrimp is the world’s most versatile food followed by clams. I would eat shrimp at every meal if I could. But sometimes you need a break from the little buggers and that is where the bivalve known as the mussel comes into play. Not only are mussels exceedingly easy to make, they go with everything, and they are cheap. Even Wegmans doesn’t overprice these suckers at $4.99 per 50 for “organic” mussels.

The genius J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats calls mussels a Choose Your Own Adventure food, like the popular book series from the 1980s. It’s more like a MadLibs recipe:

Add ____________ (fat source) to a Dutch oven or large pan. Render/Melt the fat then add ______________ and _____________ (aromatics or other vegetable) and soften. Add _______________(dry-flavored booze) and  ______________ (herbs), and bring to a boil. Swirl in cream. Add the mussels, cover the pot and cook until the mussels open. Remove from heat immediately and sop up the cooking liquid with crusty bread from ____________________ (insert bakery name here).

I call this moules marinières, though it really is not. Sailor-style mussels typically are not cooked with bacon, but tradition and recipes be damned. I wanted this style of white wine mussels but with bacon lardons. And since it’s my kitchen, I make the rules. So, my MadLibs recipe looks like bacon, celery and roasted tomatoes, pinot grigio and thyme, and Pastabilities’ stretch Italian.

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WHAT WORKED: I thought about pancetta here, but had a bunch of bacon in my freezer. Make sure you work with slightly frozen bacon as it makes things easier to slice and dice.

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WHAT DIDN’T: Try not to splatter and burn yourself while cooking the bacon. Also, don’t crowd the hell out of the mussels, otherwise they will not open.

EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy. So, frickin’ easy.

BEST FOR: A quick dinner on the weekend or if you want to make something elegant that doesn’t require a ton of work.

SERVE WITH: Beer and bread.

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Saturday Dinner: Moules Marinières Avec Bacon
  • 4 to 6 slices of thick-cut bacon, slightly frozen and cut into 1/2-inch wide strips
  • 2 medium stalks of celery, leaves and white parts removed, sliced thin
  • 1 cup roasted tomatoes (optional)
  • 16 oz. pinot grigio or other dry white wine
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme — 4 whole and 2 stripped of leaves
  • 8 oz. heavy cream, at room temperature
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 50 mussels, rinsed and debearded

Preheat a Dutch oven or similarly large pan over high heat. When it reaches a temperature where you cannot comfortably hold your hand over the bottom of the pan, reduce the heat to medium-high and add the bacon. Render the fat and let the meat just get crispy. Add the celery and roasted tomatoes, toss to coat in the oil, and let soften 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wine and thyme, and return the burner to high heat. Bring the liquid to a boil.

Stir in the cream and, once the liquid returns to a boil, add a pinch of salt and a couple of twists from the pepper grinder. Carefully add the mussels to the pan, taking care not to splash any liquid. Cook until the shells open, transferring to a serving bowl. Discard any unopened mussels and pour the cooking liquid over the mussels. Serve with bread for dunking.

By Jared Paventi

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