Third Course: Mussels and Frites
The third and main course in this dish is one that I think can be really romantic and is super easy and cheap to make: Mussels in a Tomato Broth. I also made french fries (the real way) and homemade mayo to really give the dish that Amsterdam feel. You could just serve the mussels with some crusty bread though and they would be delicious.
Before I get started on the recipes, I want to note quickly that when I took the above photo I literally thought it was the best food photo I have ever taken. When I uploaded it and checked it out the next day I was very disappointed. Not that it is the worst I’ve ever taken, but I don’t think it is up to par.
Mussels and Fries
Yield: Serves 2.
1 bunch fresh mussels (3-4 pounds)
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
3 Russet potatoes, sliced into fries
1 quart frying oil
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup neutral oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pinch of salt
Deep fry thermometer
1) Peel fries and chop them into 1/4-inch matchsticks. Then soak potatoes in cold water for a few minutes to an hour.
2) Heat a large pot of oil to 325 degrees F. and blanch french fries in batches for five minutes at this lower temperature. Remove the fries after five minutes and let drain on paper towels.
3) When almost ready to serve, heat oil to 365-375 degrees F. and refry blanched fries for 3-4 minutes. They should turn a deep brown and get crunchy immediately.
4) Drain and serve with mayo.
For the mussels:
1) Clean the mussels by running them under cold water, scrubbing them lightly and pulling out any stuff beards that are attached to the mussels (the tiny fibers that stick out the end should just pull out).
2) In a large pan over medium heat, add olive oil and garlic and cook for a minute until garlic is fragrant. Be careful not to burn it.
3) Add in diced tomatoes, white wine, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes.
4) Add mussels, cover, and cook for about 5-6 minutes until mussels are opened.
5) Add fresh basil and stir together. Serve immediately with mayo and fries!
For the mayo:
1) Whisk together yolks and mustard. Gradually and slowly whisk in oil until the mixture emulsifies into a thick dip. Season with salt and a squeeze of lemon and set aside until needed.
I think I can explain that using the below graph.
Let’s start with the fries, or frites if you are European. Basically you want to peel the potatoes, slice them in half long-wise, and then chop them into 1/2 inch slates. Then dice them into matchsticks. Of course, if you have a mandolin this will be easy, but you don’t need one to get the job done. Once you have the potatoes chopped, put them in a bowl of water right away.
Let them soak in the water for at least an hour to get the starch off. Keep in mind that this is how to make fries right. You can of course just throw them in the oil and they will fry, but they won’t be fantastic.
Ok. If you have ever had real Amsterdam mussels and frites, you’ll know that they are usually served with mayonnaise. I’ll be honest. I don’t like mayonnaise at all usually. Or at least I thought I didn’t. I also thought fries and mayo sounded disgusting before I tried this for the first time a few years ago. But if the mayo is good then it is delicious. This is not the mayo that I spread on a sandwich as a kid.
This mayo is based on just this:
That’s right. One egg. Or more specifically, one egg yolk and 1 cup of olive oil. I was following a recipe from How to Cook Everything and it definitely set me on the right path. First, it said to whisk in the egg yolk with two teaspoons of Dijon mustard. If I make this again, which I will, I would decrease the mustard to one teaspoon. It was a bit too mustardy for me.
Once this is whisked up you have to participate in an exercise of patience. The goal here is to slowly whisk in the 1 cup of olive oil into the egg yolk. An emulsion is your desired result. There are only two ways you can fail at homemade mayo: 1) You add your oil too fast or 2) You add too much oil. Since you know that you need 1 cup, just measure that out ahead of time and eliminate that problem.
As to adding it too fast, you want to start by adding just a few drops of oil into the yolk and mustard. Whisk it in really well. Then add a few more drops. Each time you want to whisk furiously to integrate the oil with the yolk. Eventually you will be able to stream in a bit of the oil and it will hold. As a time frame, it took me about 8 minutes of this to go from yolk and oil to this:
Once your mayo is made it is completely stable. It will keep for a few days without a problem. Just give it a quick stir before you serve. I think it is best right away though.
Now let’s deal with the mussels. Mussels make a living by attaching themselves to rocks and the way they do this by extending this strange strand and sticking that strand onto the rock. Most of the time this weird stringy stuff is still attached to the mussel when it is harvested. This stringy stuff is called a beard because it, well, looks kind of like a beard.
When you have your mussels run them under cold water, give them a quick scrub to remove any dirt (no soap), and if there is a beard, pull it out of the shell. If you cook the mussel with this beard in it, then you will end up with a twine like thing in each mussel.
Ok. Now for the quick secret about good french fries. You need to blanch them in oil at a lower temperature. Specifically, 325 for about 5 minutes. They will bubble furiously.
You don’t want to brown the fries. Your goal is to basically remove as much water as possible at a low temperature. You’ll end up with a soggy tray full of these. You can do this blanching a few hours ahead without a problem.
Once you are about 20 minutes out from needing your mussels you will want these: 8 cloves of garlic and a few pinches of basil.
Add the garlic to a pan with 3 Tablespoons olive oil. After it cooks for about 30 seconds add a large can of minced tomatoes and a cup of white wine and a pinch of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Let this simmer down for about 10-15 minutes.
Then throw in your mussels.
You need to cover these mussels to get them to cook efficiently. For a pan like mine, which I don’t have a fitting lid for, I covered it with foil for about 5 minutes. You know you are in business when all of your mussels are opened. Then add that basil and give it a good stir.
While those mussels are cooking, you need to finish those soggy fries you have. I don’t understand the chemistry behind what is about to happen, but it works. Turn up your oil until it reaches 360-375 and then throw in your fries for about 3-4 minutes. They will start to turn golden brown and crunchy immediately.
Once your mussels are open you can pour everything into a large bowl or plate them up.
Mussels are one of my favorite meals and we really enjoyed this meal. The french fries, in my opinion, are worth the extra work. If you ever want to make perfect fries, that is how you do it. It is some work, but it is fail proof.
The one criticism I would have of my menu at this point is that the tomato based sauce was a bit heavy with the other two courses. If I could do it again, I would do a lighter broth.
That’s it for the third course. Be sure to check back tomorrow for dessert!