Mussels in White Wine Sauce

This dish of cooking and serving mussels has been chosen because of its lasting popularity. In it the mussels are cooked in white wine and fish stock together with chopped parsley and shallots. The liquid in which the mussels have been cooked is then slightly thickened to make the accompanying sauce.

Makes: 10 portions. Cooking time: 45 minutes.

Ingredients:

— 2½ kg live mussels, washed and scraped
— 75 grams chopped shallots or onions
— ¼ liters dry white wine
— ¼ liters fish stock
— 5 grams chopped parsley
— 1 juice of lemon
— 50 grams butter (preferably unsalted)
— 1 dl cream
— seasoning of salt and cayenne pepper

Method:

(1) Place the mussels into a deep sided pan with the shallots or onion, white wine, fish stock, chopped parsley and lemon juice.
(2) Cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Cook vigorously for 8-10 minutes (when cooked the shells will open).
(3) Remove the mussels from the cooking liquid.
(4) Decant the liquid into a basin and allow it to stand so that any sand will fall to the bottom of the liquid.
(5) Open the mussels and discard the top shells. Remove the mussels from the bottom shells then beard them with the finger tips.
(6) Replace each mussel into a half shell. Place the shells in an earthenware dish to keep them warm and cover with a lid to prevent them drying.
(7) Gently pour the decanted liquid into a shallow sided pan leaving the sediment in the basin.
(8) Bring the liquid to boiling point and slightly thicken with the butter. Add some chopped parsley and test for seasoning and consistency.

Notes:
(1) In many instances cream is added to finish the sauce, though in classical cookery this will change the name of the dish to Moules à la Crème.
(2) As with all shellfish mussels, once cooked, are not suitable for retention in a sauce. If mussels are to be prepared in advance they should be removed from their shells once cooked, bearded and retained in the cooking liquid. All the shells should be discarded as they deteriorate rapidly.

Assessment of the completed dish:

(1) The dish should consist of single layers of mussels placed in the dish so that all are pointing in the same direction. Each mussel in its shell should be coated with the sauce.
(2) If prepared without cream the sauce should be rather transparent, garnished with finely chopped shallots or onion and chopped parsley. The addition of chopped parsley when serving is not really necessary since some has been cooked with the mussels from the initial stages. It may be added if it is considered the visual appearance of the dish will be enhanced.
(3) The sauce should have the distinct flavours of mussels and white wine and should be seasoned to the correct degree.
(4) The thickness or consistency of the sauce should be sufficiently light and flowing to cover the mussels in their shells.
(5) The mussels should be moist with the beard removed. There should be no traces of sand and they should be a little chewy when eaten.

Possible problem, cause and solution:

(1) Sand in the mussels or sauce:
— shells were not washed and scraped before cooking; care must be taken to prepare the mussels correctly to avoid this problem which cannot be rectified.
— cooking liquid not allowed to stand or was not decanted correctly; care must be taken at this stage to avoid this problem which cannot be rectified.

(2) Sauce is too thick:
— cooking liquid was reduced too much; thin with a little more cooking liquid, fish stock or white wine.

(3) Sauce is too thin:
— insufficient reduction of the cooking liquid; boil the sauce and whisk into it a small amount of beurre manié.
— not enough butter used as a thickening agent; reduce the sauce further, cool and whisk onto some cream or a little velouté and cream.

(4) Mussels are dry, hard and lack flavor:
— mussels have been overcooked; care must be taken to cook the mussels for the correct length of time as this cannot later be rectified.
— once cooked the mussels were held too long before the dish was completed; the mussels should be cooked closer to the time they are required to avoid the problems caused by prolonged retention which cannot be rectified later.
— once cooked and completed the dish was held for too long in a hot plate; the whole dish should be prepared closer to the time it is required to avoid the problems caused by prolonged retention which cannot be rectified later.

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