La Cale style Mussels in Cider from Renee Erickson 'A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus'

Here's a soul warmer of an appetizer from A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus, Menus and Stories (Sasquatch Books, September 2014) by Renee Erickson, a Seattle based chef and restaurateur.

Mussels in Cider

Dijon, crème fraîche, tarragon

Prep Time: 30 Minutes // Total Time: 30 Minutes // Serves 8

In Blainville-sur-Mer, a tiny town on Normandy’s Cotentin Peninsula, there’s a quirky little restaurant called La Cale, whose official street address is “La Plage,” or, simply, “the beach.” It overlooks the tidal flats that stretch five kilometers into the sea—an area that accounts for more than 10 percent of France’s oyster production—but at high tide, when all traces of aquaculture disappear, it’s simply a beachfront bistro with a few legs of lamb on an open hearth. It’s homey, complete with picnic tables and a “serve yourself ” rule that explains why patrons cut their own bread, fetch their own water, and choose their own wine from a shelf next to the bar. The rule does not explain why the room is adorned in giant needlepoints of various nudes, both male and female, but the artworks add a je ne sais quoi that I’d miss if I returned to find them replaced with something more modest.

When you order mussels there, they come in the pot they were cooked in, steamed in cider and topped with a generous dollop of crème fraîche, which whoever has thought to grab a ladle gets to stir into them just before serving. This recipe is similar. And as you do at La Cale, you should eat a small mussel first, then use its shell as a utensil to pry the mussels out of the remaining shells.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 cups dry hard cider
3 pounds mussels, cleaned and debearded
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, for seasoning
Kosher salt
¾ cup crème fraîche
½ cup loosely packed whole tarragon leaves (no stems)
Crusty bread, for serving

Mussels in Cider

In a large, high-sided saucepan or soup pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add the shallots and cook, stirring, until the shallots are soft, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the mustard, add the cider, then increase the heat to medium-high.

Add the mussels and cook, covered, until they begin to open, about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and begin transferring the mussels that have cooked to a large bowl, stirring and prodding until all the mussels have opened and have been transferred to the bowl. (Discard any mussels that do not open.)

Increase the heat to high and simmer the cider for 3 minutes, or until it has reduced by about a third. Season the liquid to taste with lemon juice and salt, then reduce the heat to low. Return the mussels to the pot, add the crème fraîche and tarragon, and stir gently until the mussels are warmed through and coated with the cream.

Serve immediately, with the bread.

(* Recipe reproduced with permission from A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus, Menus and Stories -Sasquatch Books, September 2014-  by Renee Erickson with Jess Thompson- Photographs by Jim Henkens)

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