Run, don't walk, to your local fishmonger today and buy two pounds of mussels, stat. Because I seem to be on some kind of a roll again here, and we have to take advantage of moments like this, of recipes proffered from newspapers that turn out to be recipes you will love and treasure and make over and over again. With this one, I know I will. It's labeled a soup, but I'd venture to say this is really more a stewy bowl of broth-moistened bread with all sorts of delicious things sloshing around in there. The recipe comes from Daniel Young's new book, The Bistros, Brasseries and Wine Bars of Paris that was reviewed in the LA Times. Although Young's subject is as old as the hills, this recipe alone is worth the price of the book.
I have the good fortune of having the world's best fishmonger working just a few blocks from my office. He's French and knows his metier in the way only a Frenchman can, which, I'm sure I don't need to tell you, is a relief after having stood in front of one too many other fish counters with fishmongers who don't know the difference between halibut and cod. In the 2-pound sack of mussels he gave me, there was only one mussel that didn't open in the cooking process... I'd say that's pretty great quality. And the flavor? Sweet, tender, delicious. Plus, I just get a kick out of him in general: "yes-euh, no problem-euh".
But we were talking about the recipe here: it's easy as pie. You dump your cleaned mussels in a heavy pot (I used my cast-iron one) with a cup of water and a cup of wine and bring it all to a boil to steam open the mussels for a few minutes. You drain off the mussels and save that milky, fragrant liquor. Then you saute a panful of chopped garlic, add the mussel juice and simmer it together before adding in a slurry of beaten egg yolk and vinegar. You layer toasted baguette slices, shucked mussels, and a bit of grated cheese in a bowl before pouring over the frothy broth that softens the bread and melts the cheese and bathes the mussels with gorgeous flavors.
To gild the lily, you could dust piment d'Espelette on top, or do as I did and not. I'd say the recipe makes four dainty servings - it's not a lumberjack's meal. But it's so satisfying that you won't need much more than a sharply dressed salad to follow it for a very successful dinner. I'd rather have this than moules frites any day of the week.
Garlic Soup with Mussels
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 baguette, cut into 12 (half-inch) slices
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 cup (4 ounces) grated Gruyere
1 to 2 teaspoons piment d'Espelette or chili powder - optional
1. Place the mussels, wine and 1 cup of cold water in a large saucepan over moderately high heat. Cover and cook until the shells open, 4 to 6 minutes. Strain the mussels into a colander, collecting the juices in a bowl placed below.
2. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over low heat, add the garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, until pale gold, 3 to 4 minutes. Do not let brown.
3. Add the mussel juice to the garlic, raise the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat to very low, and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, remove the mussels from the shells. Lightly toast the bread.
5. Remove the soup from the heat. Combine the egg yolk, vinegar and a couple tablespoons of the soup in a mixing bowl and beat vigorously with a whisk until the mixture gets foamy. Slowly pour the mixture back into the remaining soup, continuing to beat with a whisk.
6. To serve, place a few baguette slices, 3 to 4 tablespoons of grated cheese and some mussels on the bottom of 4 wide soup bowls, cover with soup and dust with piment d'Espelette.