Storming the Bastille

We Americans like to appropriate other peoples’ holidays. I’m as guilty as anyone — on Cinco de Mayo we have friends over for fish tacos and margaritas; never does a St. Patty’s Day pass by without corned beef, cabbage and Guinness. And Chinese New Year always represents an opportunity for lacquered duck. But we the people haven’t seemed as taken, for some reason, with Bastille Day.

I was in Paris once for Bastille Day. I remember tanks on the Champs Elysees, jets flying low overhead, drunk Parisians everywhere, reveling. I’ve always been enamored of France, and Paris in particular. Perhaps it’s because my father is a Francophile and would take me there regularly with him, or maybe it’s because some of my formative experiences of great food took place there. Whatever the reason, when Bastille Day rolls around, I like to put on the Edith Piaf, pour a cold Stella Artois and pretend I’m sitting in a café on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. And I like to cook some French food.

Moules frites

There are a lot of directions you can go on Bastille Day, from the rich German-influenced dishes of the Alsace-Lorraine to the seafood-and-garlic-centric preparations of the south. But since it’s a holiday most associated with Paris, I like to stick to that city’s brasserie best — charcuterie, house paté, onion soup, steak frites, duck confit… One of my favorite Parisian brasserie dishes is a plateaux de fruits de mer — a platter of “fruits of the sea.” These are spectacular, expensive affairs: three levels of seafood on ice, the smallest, top level featuring tiny sea snails, little crabs and other diminutive denizens of the deep, while the two larger plates hold raw oysters and clams, cooked cockles and mussels and crabs and lobsters… In lieu of having the energy to put together such a dish nor anyone to eat it with, I’ll often prepare another brasserie classic — moules frites. Fresh black mussels are inexpensive, easy to find and delicious, and paired with a baguette and good butter and some freshly crisped frites, are a wonderful Bastille Day meal. And remember, they’re still French fries and not Freedom fries.

A votre santé, et bon appetit!

*   *   *

Moules with chorizo, fennel & sun gold tomatoes
serves 4

2 lbs. black mussels
4 oz. Spanish chorizo, thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
2/3 cup Champagne or other sparkling wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
Flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Scrub mussels in cold running water and pull off the “beards” protruding from the shells (the tough, stringy part that connects the mussel to the rock). Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, and brown the chorizo slices. Add fennel and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until fennel is golden. Turn heat to high and add mussels. Add champagne and cream, and cover pot. Cook for 5 minutes until mussels have all opened (discard any that don’t open). Turn off heat and continue to let steam in covered pot.

While the mussels are steaming, make the frites (below).

When frites are done, remove mussels from pot and return pot to high heat. Reduce sauce by 2/3, until thick and creamy. Turn off heat, return mussels to pot, toss with parsley into sauce, and cover for two minutes. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve in bowls with frites on the side and a crusty baguette with butter.

*   *   *

serves 4

1 lb. medium potatoes, cut into 1/4 inch batons (i.e. fries)
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1 tbsp. duck fat or lard (optional, for flavor)
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper

Heat oil and fat (if using) over medium high heat in a large, flat pan. Add fries and cook, tossing frequently, for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking, tossing frequently, for another 8 – 10 minutes, until all fries are golden and beginning to brown. Scoop frites from pan with a large slotted spoon and drain on paper. You can prepare the fries ahead of time and keep warm in a 170-degree oven.

Bastille beverage suggestions: cold Stella Artois or Kronenberg beer; a chilled dry French white Bordeaux sauvignon blanc; iced Pernod liqueur

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. g
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 02:21:29

    Ah, mais, monsieur – aren’t moules frites BELGIAN????

    Still, I do love them. And with any luck, we hope to contribute something tasty and French!


    • scolgin
      Jul 12, 2011 @ 03:15:18

      The Belgians are really just a subset of the French — like the Austrians are a subset of the Germans. LOL

      Can’t wait to votre our santes!!!


  2. Lisa Gaskin
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 04:49:31

    Shi says you just say STELLA 😉 He’s now at 21 next month, a beer afficiando…


  3. paul
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 11:43:42

    Brooklyn has a big Bastille Day celebration and I’m going to go within the next couple of years and visit some friends living there, but I’d celebrate just about anything for a day with Stella, mussels & French fries . . .


  4. mom
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 21:21:29

    Yeah Lis, you get that way with your favorite beers. Like Sierra for Sierra Nevada, Longboard for Longboard Lager or La Goo for Lagunitas.
    Great recipe Sean, I’m gonna make it.


  5. mom
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 21:22:25

    Forgot Druel for Moose Druel.


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