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Soupe aux moules

Monte Bianco

Live Mussels 1-2 lb (500g-1Kg) per person
Dry white wine ½ glass (100ml) per lb of mussels
White onions 1 medium onion per lb of mussel

The trick, Jacques, was the long gentle sweating of the sweet white onions, their cooking prolonged by the wait while Eduardo Dubuc roasted/grilled an enormous joint of beef—so big, the oven door wouldn't close— that he had lovingly selected at the slaughterhouse and hung to perfection.

Prepare the mussels: clean off any barnacles or seaweed; remove the "beard" which attached the mussel to its home; put the cleaned mussels into an artificial sea—cool, salted water, sprinkled with a teaspoon of plain flour—the flour stimulates the mussels to filter the water and disgorge any mud or sand. Leave in a cool place for a few hours, or overnight.

Meanwhile, cook the onions. You will need a pot with plenty of room for your mussels as they take up more space once opened. Chop the onions finely; cook them slowly in the covered pot with little butter or oil until they become translucent; stir them from time to time; keep cooking until they colour slightly, if they threaten to become dry moisten with a little wine; keep cooking to develop a rich flavour.

Once you and your guests are ready, strain the mussels into a colander, add a bunch of fresh tarragon and your dry white wine—perhaps a Meursault—to the onions;bring to the boil over a high heat, add the cleaned mussels and cover. The mussels will cook in the steam from the wine. After a minute or so, stir and cover again, cooking just long enough for the mussels to open to open. Transfer the mussels to a warmed serving dish, and pour the juices over them, leaving any grit behind. A good dollop of double (ie heavy) cream stirred in, and quickly warmed, just before serving, is optional—but recommended.
Don't overcook the mussels!

You can vary this recipe endlessly:

  • Saffron, a dozen strands sweated with the onions, in place of tarragon.
  • Other aromatic vegetables—fennel, celery, celeriac—sweated with the onions.
  • Coconut milk flavoured with ginger, galangal or lemongrass, together with garlic and chilli, instead of the wine.
  • Or, add just ¼ cup (50 ml) per person of water to steam the mussels; then, once the mussels have opened, remove them to a warmed bowls. working quickly, add to the onions some aniseed liqueur—Sambuca, Pernod, any generic Pastis or Raki, a good measure (say 1 oz. or 25 ml) per person—set alight to burn off the alcohol. Once the flames subside add single (light) cream (¼ cup, 50 ml per person); reheat, and pour the creamy, sweet, onion-aniseed broth over the mussels to serve.

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