An at-home Valentine’s Day celebration calls for little luxuries. Though you could easily run out and grab all the caviar, filet mignon, berries, and fine chocolate, another way to approach extravagance is with your time.
In exchange for a few extra moments at the stove, you’ll earn a long, leisurely French supper of moules-frites, because just as fries take a little more time to cook, mussels require your time and attention to eat.
The French way with mussels is simple enough. Gently sautéed onions mingle with garlic, parsley, and a lot of white wine–which becomes the broth. You add the mussels to the pot when they’re (gasp!) still alive. When each shell opens, the fresh seafood is yours to extract–together. Sprinkle with more parsley, and you’re in the business of feasting.
As for French fries, here’s where the luxury comes in again–even though you won’t have spent much on either potatoes or mussels! Though I rarely think to make fries at home, it’s not such a big deal, provided you’re okay dealing with a lot of hot oil. The best fries are fried twice. Do the first fry before you cook the mussels, then go for fry #2 when the mussels are nearly done. When they’re crisp, it’s time to pour the Chardonnay you opened for cooking, set down a bowl for mussel shells, and linger at the table with your loved one.
If you want more indulgences, slice a crusty baguette and end the meal with a crisp green salad and good cheese. And some fine chocolate.
- For the mussels:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- Half bunch of parsley, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup Vintners Reserve Chardonnay
- 2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
- For the French fries:
- 2 tablespoons cider or white vinegar
- 1 large baking potato
- 1½ quarts peanut oil
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- a few pinches smoked paprika
- juice of half a lemon
- Make the mussels:
- Heat the olive oil in a large lidded pot or Dutch oven over a medium-high flame. Sauté the onion until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and salt, and sauté for another minute or so, until very fragrant. Throw in most of the parsley and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer for a minute or so, until some of the alcohol has burned off, then gently pile in the mussels. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook until the mussels have opened, about 5 minutes, depending on the size of your mussels. Garnish with parsley, and serve immediately straight from the pot.
- (If your fries aren't done yet, you can leave the mussels, covered, off the heat, until you're ready to eat.)
- For the fries:
- Peel the potato and cut them into fries–about 4″ by ¼″ by ¼″. Place them in a bowl and fill to cover with water. Add the vinegar and mix around. Leave for about 10 minutes, while you heat the oil. When ready to cook, rinse the potatoes in a few more washes of cold water, then pat them dry with paper towels.
- To get ready to fry, line a baking sheet with paper towels.
- Heat the oil in a small, tall pot over high heat. When the oil reaches 350°F, it's time to fry. (If you don't have a thermometer, here's what to do: when the oil starts to shimmer, add a small fry. When this fry sizzles, that means you're ready). Turn the heat down slightly, and cook the fries for 1 minute, until very barely golden.
- Scoop out with a slotted spoon to a paper towel and take the oil off the heat. You can do this up to several hours ahead of time.
- When you're ready to actually eat dinner, heat the same oil up to 350°F. Return the fries to the oil and cook for 4 minutes, until golden and crisp. Scoop them back out to the waiting paper-towel lined sheet and salt generously before serving.
- Prepare the dip by combining the mayo, paprika, and a squeeze of lemon juice in a small bowl. Dollop on or beside the fries.
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