French Dip - Mussels "Provencale" Style

My entire food life revolves around sauce. Dry rubs - forget it. A simple grilled piece of fish or steak? Not interested. That rich chocolate torte you made and are putting in front of me...It better have some raspberry coulis next to it or I may just get nasty.

I'm saucy and not afraid to say it.

I am not sure how this evolved. My dad and I virtually come to blows when we discuss barbeque sauce and its place on the table so it's clearly not genetic (as you can probably tell, I think it belongs, he thinks it should be banished).

On my last night in San Diego before moving up to the Bay Area, we walked over to a wonderfully casual French bistro called Bleu Boheme in Kensington. Earlier that day I had crashed the U-haul moving truck into a neighbor's car which ended up costing $2400. A few really nice dinners in Aix-en-Provence. Add to that a dead battery and an hour on the phone with a less than helpful customer service rep hadn't helped my mood. I was miffed. OK, pissed off actually (excuse my French). Working all day, my muscles were tired from lugging boxes and lifting furniture. I was exhausted mentally, physically, and economically.

Entering the restaurant brought me right back to a trip in the south of France to Provence. Warm mineral walls and light blue banquettes. The smell of lavender herbs you find in the country outside Arles. A whiff of herbal anise scented Pernod from a pastis in Nice. The troubled and lovely Edith Piaf crooning "La vie en rose" in the background. I needed liquid therapy.

I dove headfirst into a whirlpool bath glass of champagne to get my bearings. Sipping measuredly, I started to calm down a bit. Just enough to open the menu and look at the 6 choices of mussels they were serving that night. Because all of that flavor isn't in the gentle tasting bi-valve molluscs of the Mediterranean.

It was time for something with real dipping potential to satisfy my hunger and saucy worldview.

Herbs. Pernod. White Wine. Mussels steamed to perfection in this Provencale goodness. And a basket of warm, crusty French bread to soak it all up.

I made my own version of the Blue Boheme dish from that evening and took some inspiration from the fabulously talented Maria Helm Sinskey's "The Vineyard Kitchen" to come up with this version adding a generous amount of herbs, some Pernod, and my secret weapon for adding flavor to sauces - anchovies.

This came out very well and is fairly easy to make. With all that delectable sauce I could eat a truckload of these...Damned U-Haul.

Recipe for Mussels Provencale
Serves 2

1 lb black mussels (12-15 per person)
3 T olive oil
1 small shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 anchovy, minced
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme
6 large basil leaves, julienned
1 pinch salt
1 C white wine
1 t Pernod liqueur*
1 T fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Scrub the mussels and debeard them. Keep them cool or refrigerated until ready to cook. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, head the olive oil over a medium high flame. Add the shallots and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Add the anchovy and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes until they begin to break down. Add the thyme sprigs, half of the basil, salt and wine. Bring to a boil. Add the pernod and place the mussels in the pan. Cover and cook over medium high heat for 6-7 minutes, shaking the pan 2-3 times. Take off the lid and discard any unopened mussels. Using a sloted spoon place the mussels into ceramic bowls. Remove the thyme sprigs and ladle the sauce over the mussels. Garnish with remaining fresh basil and parsley. Serve with french bread toast and white wine.

*Pernod is French made liquor that has a black licorice taste. You can substitute 3 T of chopped fennel and saute with the shallots for a similar and very tasty effect.

Recipe for Garlic & Herb French Toast
1 artisan baguette, sliced lengthwise in half
1/2 stick butter, melted
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 T fresh Italian parsley, chopped
cracked black pepper

Pre-heat an oven to 325 degrees. Brush each side of the sliced bread with melted butter. Spread minced garlic and parsley over bread and season lightly with salt and pepper. Place the bread halves back together and wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Slice into 2 or 3 inch portions and serve.


Kalyn said...

Since the recipe uses thyme and basil you could submit it to the host for next week. You can find that information here.

Anonymous said...

Sounds wonderful :)

Peter M said...

I embrace mussels and find them superior to clams in flavour. A wonderful classic here.

Elra said...

This is my all time favorite classic! When I don't have the time to make it myself, I'd go to "Left Bank" in Menlo Park, just to eat this mussels.

Nate-n-Annie said...

wow, anchovy huh? Thanks for unveiling your "secret"! Sounds delicious. I love mussels.

Nicole said...

Oh I am right with you on the sauce thing!!! I adore it. My mother and I practically lick the plate of sauce and always order extra! Your mussels look very tasty!

noble pig said...

Oh these look wonderful. I can only imagine the flavor and taste. Looks like a wonderful snack and meal!

Kevin said...

Those mussels look good. I am going to have to try cooking mussels at home.

Clumbsy Cookie said...

Hey saucy guy I like your mussels, ahahah! We have a lot of mussels here in Portugal and I really don't have them a lot. I think I'm more of a clam girl, but these look amazing!

Vinogirl said...

Oh dear! Any seafood but mussels (and clams). I'm sure it's delicous in it's own stinky way!

Nazarina A said...

Time for me to strap on the apron and make your mussels dish. It was enjoyable just looking at it!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

I make a similar recipe with when my dad visits and use green mussels. I'll have to try your version next time he's in town cause I know he'd love it.

Alexa said...

That looks like my kind of meal... I can smell the wonderful aroma just by reading your post. Soaking up the sauce with some good bread is the best part.

No worries about the MIA thing, I have been really busy as well. I always enjoy your visits and comments. :-)

Lori Lynn said...

Sorry to hear about the U-Haul fiasco. These mussels sound perfect. Pernod, definitely!

Aran said...

i can smell it from here! Thanks for leaving such a kind comment on my blog. San Sebastian is beautiful and I know exactly what carrousel you are talking about. We took my son on it too when we were there. Alderdi Eder, right in front of the City Hall. Thanks again!

Sharon said...

I absolutely love mussels, but have never made them at home. I'd love to try this one!

Sorry about crashing the U-Haul. Sounds like something only I would do ;)

Angela said...

Hey saucy man... nice posting! :) I love, love, love mussels. And Aix-en-Provence is Paul's favorite town in Provence. One day we will go together. Meantime, I can see I have a very fine mussel recipe to try. Thanks!

white on rice couple said...

Wow, you are truly passionate about sauce. But I get both you and your father make amazing bbq sauces!
I'm in love with your sauce already....anchovies....mmmm....