Moules à la Normande
Updated: Apr 6
"If you're afraid of butter, as many people are nowadays, just put in cream!”
Julia Child (1912-2004)
With the similar reluctance in a recent post (Moules Marinièries (with Lovage)) to suggest that the given recipe was the settlement of any disputes about the definitive one, I have a comparable reluctance to claim that I have here the official recipe for Moules à la Normande. However, this recipe comes from a most elegant book by the Roux Brothers called "French Country Cooking", and if any pair of people can be deemed an authority on French cuisine, surely it is they. Their recipe is entitled "Moules au Cidre du Pays D'Auge" and is, of course, homed in the chapter dedicated to the dishes of Normandy and Brittany.
The recipe introduction reveals that "Albert adores this... dish" which, upon inspection of the amount of butter and cream in the ingredients list, comes perhaps with little surprise. What did surprise me, however, was that the 1kg quantity of mussels was proposed as being appropriate for 4 servings - I would normally allow up to 1kg of mussels per person. However, having sat down to a half measure of the recipe I soon realised that this is a very rich dish and, indeed, is ideally suited to being enjoyed in smaller quantities, probably as a luxurious starter course. I therefore give a version of the recipe for 2 servings using 500g of mussels and as such it is an extremely economical dish, mussels being such an affordable seafood.
Unusually, for such an inexpensive product, mussels are also both sustainable and nutritious. The ones currently on the market stall are from Cornwall and are really at their prime here in October. So as the weather turns chillier (and I may be noticing it a little more than I used to with early-morning dog-walks a new part of the daily routine), it's the perfect time of year to be consciously and conscientiously taking your healthy mussel and transforming it into a satisfying and comforting plate by loading it up with a good helping of booze, butter and cream. Bon appetit!
The flavour of the cider really does come through in this dish so do use a good one - the sort of cider you would choose at one of those "I really fancy a glass of cider" moments. To be true to tradition the ideal choice would be a Normandy medium dry cider, as suggested by Messrs Roux, but the spirit of Bute Street Seafoodie certainly endorses a traditional vintage English dry cider. Either way, do accompany the dish with a glass of the same cider.
Moules à la Normande
Ingredients (Serves 2)
500g mussels, cleaned
30g chopped shallot
1 sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
50ml double cream
1 tbsp finely snipped chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat half the butter in a large saucepan (for which you have a lid), add the shallot and sauté it gently for a couple of minutes. Pour in three-quarters of the cider along with the thyme sprig and bay leaf and boil to reduce the cider by about one-third.
Add the cream to the saucepan and, once returned to the boil, tip in the mussels and cover the pan with its lid. Shake the pan and cook the mussels over a high heat for about 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mussels have opened. Strain the mussels through a colander set over a bowl to collect the cooking liquor. The mussels may be kept just warm in a low oven for the next few minutes if desired.
Pour the cooking liquor (minus any residual grit at the bottom) into a saucepan, add the remaining cider and bring to a rapid boil. Reduce the liquid by at least half to obtain a sauce consistency. At this point season with salt (if needed) and pepper to taste and then whisk in the remaining half of the butter to complete the sauce.
To serve, either put the whole mussels in a serving dish, or present them in the half-shell on individual plates or shallow bowls. Pour some of the sauce over and garnish with the chopped chives. In either case, serve any residual sauce in a small sauce boat.
"French Country Cooking", The Roux Brothers (2010), pp. 24: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Roux-Brothers-French-Country-Cooking/dp/0283995416
"Moules Marinièries (with Lovage)", Bute Street Seafoodie
"Good Fish Guide", Marine Conservation Society, accessed 11 October 2020
"The nutritional and healthy facts about shellfish", Shellfish Association of Great Britian, accessed 11 October 2020