Moules Marinières (with Lovage)
Updated: Apr 6
"'Something smells amazing. What are we having?'
Carla Laureano, "Brunch at Bittersweet Café" (2019)
Attempting to write the definitive recipe for Moules Marinières is, in my view, a mug’s game. After all, three of my go-to authority cookbooks of French cuisine disagree with one another in some way or another. Some recipes include thyme and bay, some add cream... etc. It is not my intention to be their, or anyone else‘s moderator on the subject.
What I have here is a little idea that has turned out fantastically and involves the inclusion of a herb that we don’t see very often, and one I just happened to be growing on my balcony this year (with quite some success for the least green-fingered person on the planet despite the early heatwaves we experienced), with no clue what I would use it for: lovage.
Somewhere in my past I was served Moules Marinières with celery in the broth. I can’t really remember where it was but it may have been in a Belgian town we stopped in for a lunch of ”Moules Frites” on our drive to the European Grand Prix at Nurburgring quite a number of years ago. As an ingredient celery doesn’t appear in any of the recipes for Moules Marinières in my French cookbooks but I do still sometimes include it (and/or some of its leaves) in my Moules.
Lovage has a flavour quite difficult to describe, but I find celery to be a viable comparison. Put it this way, I would be confident that anyone who likes celery as a veg would like lovage as a herb. Incidentally, lovage seeds are also called carom or ajwain and often feature in the batter used to make Indian pakoras (see Whiting Pakoras with Coconut Chutney for example) as well as in southern/eastern European dishes.
My idea was simply to substitute some of the traditional parsley in Moules Marinières with a good few leaves of lovage to achieve the celery flavour without celery. I really like the result and, although you’re probably only likely to try this if you grow your own lovage, I have to recommend you give it a go.
This is a particularly good time of year for mussels and the Cornish ones available on the market stall have really come into their own in the last few weeks. Mussels are highly sustainable as a seafood and are a very healthy ‘fast food’. So there really is every reason to enjoy one of our great homegrown foods.
It goes without saying that a bowl of mussels should be served in the ubiquitous pot with “Moules” written on the side and some crusty bread to capture the full experience.
Advising on the safety aspects of preparing mussels is beyond my qualifications. But I don’t mind sharing how I go about it. First, for storage I wrap the mussels loosely in a damp tea towel and keep this parcel in a bowl in the fridge. I reckon you get at least another day‘s worth of storage this way. To clean the mussels I empty them into a sink under the running cold water tap, pull away the beards and scrub them with a nail brush if necessary. At this stage most should be tightly shut but any that aren’t I give an assertive tap on the side of the sink and, provided there is a clear effort of theirs to close in response, they join their colleagues in the pot’s direction. Those that show no sign of life I discard. Once cooked I prefer to avoid any mussels that have not opened as they may have been closed but also dead before they went in the pot.
This, as I said earlier, is not a definitive recipe for Moules Marinières. It is just the way I usually make the dish.
Moules Marinières (with Lovage)
Ingredients (Serves 2 as a starter or 1 as a main)
750g mussels, cleaned
A large knob of butter 3 tbsp chopped shallot
1 fat garlic clove, chopped
1 bay leaf (optional)
60ml white wine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of flat leaf parsley
A handful of lovage leaves (or celery leaves or extra parsley)
Melt the butter in a large pan for which you have a tight-fitting lid. Add the chopped shallot and garlic and sweat gently for a minute or so. Pour in the wine, add the bay leaf if using, turn the heat up high and put the lid on until the liquid has come to a rapid boil.
Add the mussels to the pan with some seasoning, replace the lid and give the pan a shake. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mussels have opened. In the meantime, chop the parsley and lovage (or alternative).
Just before serving, stir in the chopped herbs and some more seasoning as preferred. Now serve.