Consider the lowly mussel, often incorrectly referred to as the "poor man's oyster."
We beg to differ. Mussels are plentiful, easy to cook and, most importantly, our absolute favorite thing to eat with french fries.
And the classic Belgian pairing, moules frites (see the recipe), is one of those iconic, dynamic duos that should never be torn apart: The juicy, subtle briny flavor and creamy texture of the mussels paired with the crunchy, salty fries is pure comfort food at its best—and the aromatic cooking liquid is a built-in dipping sauce that you'll sop up with the potatoes, crusty bread and anything else you have lying around.
About that savory sauce: The most common steamed mussel-and-fry preparation is known as moules marinieres, which translates to "sailor-style mussels." All you need are mussels, some aromatics, wine (or cider), a few knobs of butter and a sprinkling of parsley. When those alliums, the wine and the juices that the mussels release bind together, it forms something truly intoxicating.
However, the beauty of moules frites is that the ingredients aren't at all set in stone. Toss in some more aromatics, like leeks and celery (moules natures). Use olive oil instead of butter. Pop open a beer and pour that in instead of wine (moules à la bière). Cream or crème fraîche makes that sauce rich and velvety (moules à la crème), and a few drops of Pernod can imbue a warm anise flavor. However, as Nigel Slater warns, "Go steady, [as] there is no remedy for adding too much [Pernod]."
Our recipe actually borrows from moule frites' distant French cousin, bourride, a fish stew thickened with garlic aioli. We gently cook some shallots, celery, leeks and garlic in olive oil. A bay leaf, pinch of crushed red pepper or piment d'Espelette are added with some white wine. The mussels (always super fresh) are then tossed into the pot, covered and rattled so that they cook evenly. When they're done, we take them out and swirl some aioli into the cooking liquid.
And, no, don't worry, we didn't forget about fries. We took an easier route than the twice-fried potatoes you'll find in Belgium: We slice skin-on russet potatoes using a mandoline, then cut them into thin matchsticks. They get fried only once, starting in cold oil that's turned way up to blister them to crisp, golden perfection.
When everything's ready, loads of crusty bread and aioli are essential for maximum dippage. But toss those miniscule mussel forks you got at your wedding. Do as they do in Belgium and use an empty shell as a pair of tweezers or half a shell to scoop everything up.
And that's how you'll strike moules gold.
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