I've been meaning to write about the first time I cooked mussels and french fries for awhile now, but I wanted to get the picture off of Tim's camera (when I finally got around to it, he had already accidentally deleted the ones with the mussels AND the french fries), so there's only a picture of the mussels above. Don't they look so lonely without the fries?
I always thought that cooking mussels was really hard, but in fact, it's pretty easy and doesn't take that much time to prepare at all. I used frozen french fries, and even then, that took the longest to cook.
After doing a bit of research on where to buy mussels, I settled on going to The Lobster Place in Chelsea market. Usually about 1 pound per person is sufficient, and the Prince Edward Island mussels there cost $3.25/pound.
The recipe asked for cultivated mussels. Cultivated mussels are collected from rocks or in production areas on posts. They are better than wild mussels because they contain less grit and sand. You can tell a cultivated mussel from a wild one by their valves (shells) - cultivated ones have two convex valves and wild ones have one convex and one concave valve.
As for the wine, the recipe called for dry white wine. After scrolling through some websites, it seemed like the best bet was to use wine that you liked drinking as well to cook with. If you don't intend to drink the wine, then Julia Child recommended using dry white vermouth - it'll keep longer and you can use it for future recipes. I settled for a Sauvignon Blanc I tasted from Trader Joe's. Other dry white wines include Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Chablis, and Riesling (though I like sweet Rieslings better). An interesting side fact: wines are dry if they have a residual sugar content well under 1%.
Below is the recipe (modified from the original Epicurious one since I thought that using regular mayonnaise for the fries was sufficient instead of making the mustard mayonnaise). Because the recipe was using such simple ingredients I wasn't sure if it would be tasty enough, but it was really flavorful. I'm also a huge fan of interactive eating and digging around and opening mussels. Just be careful not to eat the ones that haven't opened during cooking. That means they're dead. We didn't eat the ones that were even a little bit open just to be safe - risking food poisoning for a little bit of shellfish isn't worth it!
P.S. For all of those people out there who haven't eating french fries with mayonnaise, it's really the way to go. I was a skeptic like you once (until I studied abroad in Rome), but at least try it. Eating french fries with a bit of ketchup and mayonnaise is also really good - kind of like thousand island dressing without the tartness.
1 (15- to 16-ounce) package frozen french fries
1 small onion
2 garlic cloves, forced through a press
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup dry white wine
2 pounds cultivated mussels, scrubbed (and debearded if not already)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Cook french fries according to package instructions and keep warm in oven if necessary.
Meanwhile, cut onion into very thin slices, then cook with garlic and a pinch of salt in butter in a wide heavy medium pot over medium-high heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until pale golden.
Add wine to onion and briskly simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until onion is almost tender, about 5 minutes. Add mussels and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until mussels just open wide, 4 to 6 minutes, checking frequently after 4 minutes and transferring as cooked to a bowl. (Discard any mussels that remain unopened.) Stir parsley into cooking liquid and season with salt. Pour liquid over mussels, then serve with fries and mayonnaise.
UPDATE 5/20/08: So, Tim and I made mussels and fries again last night, this time with a coconut curry sauce (which wasn't as good the white wine butter sauce). However, he insisted that I take a picture of the mussels with the fries for posting purposes. So, here it is.