Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mussels in white wine and the winner of the giveaway

Mussels in white wine are a specialty of my husband Meakin. It makes an impressive dish when you are having a few friends over for a casual lunch on the terrace, sipping wine, and enjoying a lazy afternoon.

I’m always surprised when I hear people say they think mussels are difficult to prepare. Not true. Cultivated mussels that can be found in most supermarkets today no longer have beards and don’t have to be cleaned as they once did. Meakin steams the mussels in a wine and chicken broth mixture, finishes them with tomatoes, cream and a dash of Pernod, an anise flavored French liquor, and dinner is served before you know it.

We like to keep a bottle of Pernod on hand so we can use a splash of its citrusy anise flavor in seafood to give it a Mediterranean twist and a taste of Provence. In the south of France Pernod is sipped as an aperitif called pastis. Typically waiters bring small glasses of Pernod on a tray to your table with a pitcher of cold water for diluting the strong green liqueur, making it turn cloudy and yellow.

Speaking of things French, as you know, I had a quiz to “name this restaurant” in post last week with a giveaway of Top Chef fame’s Tom Colicchio’s book Think Like a Chef. The Quintessential Magpie Sheila was the first person to correctly identify the name of the restaurant as Chez Fonfon in Birmingham, Alabama. Congratulations Sheila. I’ll get the cookbook off to you immediately.

The first time I saw this photograph in Southern Accents magazine I fell in love with the charm of it. I immediately wanted to know who these people were, what they were chatting about, and most of all, where was this charming French bistro? The photo wanted to make me pack my bags and go there, no matter where it was. Here is the article, written by Lydia Longshore, about the three gentlemen in the photo which was taken by Howard L. Puckett, about Chez Fonfon.

Room service – a new Birmingham café captures the spirit of French dining – from Southern Accents

“When people stroll into Chez Fonfon, says decorator Patrick J. Dunne, right, “they check their compasses to make sure they haven’t strayed into a different longitude.”

A new restaurant venture of Birmingham’s Frank Stitt, left, creator of Bottega and Highlands Bar & Grill, Chez Fonfon is a café devoted to French food and the artful wasting of an afternoon. With well-selected wines, traditional French “small food” such as pate and croque monsieur, and a boule court out back, the café garnered a loyal following when it opened in May.

For an authentic look, Dunne and Zoubir Tabout, middle, from New Orleans’ Lucullus scoured France for Belle Epoque cherry café tables, leather banquettes, and Art Deco nickel chandeliers and found marble wainscoting in an old Birmingham building – then set it against creamy walls covered with what you’d swear was the patina of Gauloise smoke.

Chef Frank Stitt began his culinary career in the San Francisco Bay Area. While he worked at Chez Panisse, Alice introduced him to the famous food author Richard Olney, best known for his books on French country cooking. At the time Olney was writing the Good Cook series for Time Warner and needed an assistant. Stitt became Olney’s assistant and worked in the French countryside alongside culinary giants such as Simca Beck, Jeremiah Tower and Elizabeth David.

Photo from
In 1982 Chef Frank Stiff opened the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama, where southern favorites such as stoned ground grits and country ham are paired on the menu with French sauces and rich country braises.

Highlands Bar & Grill & Chef Frank Stitt have received numerous accolades. In 2001 Gourmet magazine ranked the restaurant #5 on their list of “The 50 Best American Restaurants” and wrote, “Frank Stitt’s lively mind, unerring palate, and easy grace have combined to make him the culinary king of Alabama.” Chef Stitt has also received the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Southeast. To quote novelist Pat Conroy, "I have eaten at the Highlands Bar and Grill more than twenty times and have never had a single dish that was not superb."

After his success at Highlands, Stitt opened Bottega and Café Bottega, which showcases Stitt’s love of the Mediterranean and Italy. In 2000 he followed with Chez Fonfon, a French café - all in Birmingham. Gas-tron-o-my wrote in his rave review of Highlands Bar, “Throughout our dinner, Chef Stitt came into the dining room several times to meet and greet with longtime regulars. I think it’s quite cool that even after twenty-seven years in the business (and three other restaurants to tend to), he can still be found working the line on a weeknight. Now, that’s classy.”

Now you can understand we’re dying to go to Birmingham and visit Chef Stitt’s restaurants and sample his fabulous food for ourselves. Believe me, this will not be the last you hear about Chef Frank Stitt and his restaurants on this blog.

Chef Stitt has two cookbooks. Frank Stitt’s Southern Table, Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill and Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef's Love Affair with Italian Food. 

Although Mussels in white wine don’t happen to be on the menu at Chez FonFon, we nevertheless though it was the perfect dish to conclude the quiz and giveaway. Sheila, this dish is prepared by my favorite personal chef and husband Meakin especially for you. Bon appétit.

Mussels in white wine a la Chez Meakin
Moules a la Mariniere

3 pounds of small cultivated mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 leek
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups chicken broth (we like the low sodium & fat free variety)
1 cup dry white wine
1 - 14.5oz can whole tomatoes
½ cup of half & half or cream
2 capfuls of Pernod (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Rinse the mussels in water, scrub and debead if necessary.

Cut the dark green leaves off of the top of the leek and discard them. You will be left with the light green leaves and white end. Cut the roots off of the white end and discard it also. Cut the remainder of the leek in half lengthwise, rinse well under running water to remove any dirt, and shake dry. Cut each half of the leek in half again and thinly slice.

Add the olive oil to a large non-aluminum stock pot and set the heat to medium. Sauce the leek and garlic in the olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes to soften, taking care not to brown.

Add the mussels in their shells, chicken broth and wine to the stock pot and stir well. Raise the heat to medium high. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mussels open. Discard any mussels that do not open.

Remove the stock pot from the heat and allow the mixture to cool. When it is sufficiently cool, carefully remove the mussels from the liquid and pick them from their shells, leaving a few in their shells for a garnish.  Discard the remaining shells.

Add the mussels back to the liquid in the stockpot along with a can of whole tomatoes which you have gently crushed with your hands along with their tomato liquid. Stir, then bring the mixture to a boil, immediately turn the heat down to medium low and let it simmer about 10 minutes.

Add the half & half, Pernod if using, a good pinch of cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste. Let it heat through. Serve immediately in bowls with chopped fresh parsley for garnish. Accompany with slices of a crusty French baguette. Serves 4.

News: If you love mussels as much as we do, check this out. Ina Garten - The Barefoot Contessa - has a brand new book How Easy is That? that is hot off of the press. She has two great mussel recipes - French Mussel Bisque and Mussels & Basil Bread Crumbs. I'm never disappointed with Ina's recipes.


  1. Congrats to the winner! That dish looks mervelous!



  2. Congrats to Sheila - I love her blog.


  3. That looks fabulous!! One of our local restaurants serves scallops pernod and it is my drop dead favorite going out meal!!


  4. Meakin could prepare those mussels for me anytime!!!

  5. Congrats to the winner, what a charming place.

    I have got to make those mussels, the best part is mopping up the sauce with your crusty bread!

  6. Meakin's mussels look divine. We are lucky to have our own personal chefs. LOL. I too would make Birmingham a destination just to eat at that restaurant. Next time you get to NOLA check out Lucullus. It is a great French culinary antique shop

  7. The mussels sound delicious. Congrats to the winner!

  8. I believe that guy can cook mussels. We love them and will have to try soon.

  9. I LOVE mussels!
    And you've made me hungry again.

    I told Vernon what you said about his bread... and he mentioned something about a rope story?

    He said he'd share it with us.

    And I hope you caught the news about Summerview? If not, you might want to check in.


  10. Consider yourself very lucky to have a personal chef.......hubby is tops!!!

  11. Highlands Bar and Grill is an outstanding restaurant. Eaten there many times with family and friends. Thanks for your article...very enjoyable reading and refreshing my memory!

  12. I would love to eat at that restaurant!! Meakin's mussels look yummy! Thank you for the recipe.

  13. Ummm, yummy on the mussels! I would have never guessed that, so congrats to the winner! I was way off on the state, lol!

  14. Yum, I love mussels but have to admit I've never prepared them at home. Meakin's recipe looks heavenly, Sam, and I'm going to give it a try.

    A huge congrats to Sheila, what a lucky girl.

  15. Congrats to Sheila!!! And I wish someone would make me this wonderful dish!!

  16. Congrats to your lucky winner. What an elegant dish Meakin prepared.. I just adore men who cook!

  17. We're on the same page -mussels in wine anyway. I love the French touch in your recipe - especially the splash of Pernod. Congrats to the lucky winner. I do remember The Good Cook series! Fun posting!

  18. Congratulations and the soup looks like a winner too:)

  19. Congrats to Sheila. She had to work hard to find the Everything looks wonderful.

  20. Ah, yes, mussels steamed in white wine. You’re right that this kind of dish is very simple to prepare. Although I’ve never made it with Pernod. Thanks for the description that Pernod is citrus-y as well as anise-flavored. I’m a little hesitant when it comes to anise-flavored ingredients, but this encourages me to perhaps pick up a little bottle of Pernod myself.

    And thanks so much for all the background on Chef Stitt. I’ve heard of him from time to time and stumbled onto some of his recipes, but this is eye-opening. I hope you have a fabulous trip to Birmingham, and I look forward to reading more about Chef Stitt on your blog.

  21. Mussels in white wine a classic dish. I agree that some find mussels or seafood in general difficult to cook. When in truth, it can be quite simple. All you need is a bit of confidence.

    Lovely dish.

  22. Lazy afternoon, sipping wine, hubby prepares the mussels in white wine, I think I just died and went to heaven:) Congrats to the winner of your contest!

  23. Funny because mussels in white wine is my husband's specialty too, but I'm loving Meakin's version with tomatoes. This is my favorite meal. And that is such a great photo!

  24. That photo has a very similar effect on me indeed! Make me ache with longing in fact.
    Another lovely recipe, thank you.
    Robyn x

  25. I know nothing about cooking mussels. I have tried it once, they were good, but decided I needed a Mussels For Dummies book before I tried it again. Congrats to the winner.

  26. I knew the restaurant had to be in the South somewhere. It sounds like a must when visiting Burmingham.A big thank you also to Meakin for cooking us up this tasty stew!

  27. I've never made mussels at home, but now I'm inspired! The recipe looks really delicious and completely thanks for the nudge I needed to make them at home! :) Congats to the winner!

  28. What a beautiful dish and it is definitely one my husband would love as well.

  29. Great meal for a special occasion!

  30. That meal would make any occasion special. I may try it on a regular old Wednesday to make my week special.

    Plan B

  31. A fabulous preparation of mussels! I haven't had mussels in ages, must fix that soon!

  32. Meakin's mussels look delicious. Pernod adds a wonderful complementary flavor to seafood, especially mussels.

    I'd also like to visit Chez Fonfon someday. It looks so fun, sophisticated and relaxed.

  33. Hello Sam, I have been so busy with a camera club BBQ for almost 50 in my home this past week. We had seating for everyone which included my bedroom. Smile! Lots of fun and not any leftovers from the food I prepared. We purchased the ribs and chicken already prepared. It would have been fun to know what you thought about the food.

    Congrats to Sheila for winning the giveaway. She is the sweetest person.

    I enjoyed your post today and the mussels look delicious. Great food from your very own chef. smile.
    Have a wonderful day.
    Hugs, Jeanne

  34. Sam, if this doesn't motivate me to go out and buy a batch of mussels and make them at home, nothing will! Looks gorgeous!

  35. I love mussels and this looks delicious! This may be on next weeks menu!

  36. I love mussels but have never prepared them -- I may have to brave up...

  37. My absolute favorite way to eat mussels. I could eat bowlfuls of these with good bread for dipping.

  38. The pink tint that the sauce takes on is perfect for Breast Cancer Awareness month.

    I normally wouldn't think of that but Trevor dyed his hair pink for "pink out" day at his school this week.

  39. Hello! I'm Michele, I luv your blog. I arrived here via Femme d'Un Certain Age. I must say she has GREAT taste! I'll certainly be back! CHEERS!!!! xo

  40. Sam, this dish looks amazing. I can't wait to try it. I love all things seafood.

    The give away was so tough. I have really good research skills and came up empty handed.

  41. That restaurant looks quite the authentic bistrot; so surprised moules marinière are not on the menu!
    your recipe is great, I have never made them with tomatoes and think I will try this version next time.

  42. The mussels in wine looks delicious. I hope that someday, I'll be able to try out the recipe.

  43. I'd like to introduce Andrew to Meakin! He wants to try mussels and I want him to. Through all my food teaching years, I've always been intimidated by mussels. Thanks for this post (love that photo and would like to be at the table with those gentlemen)--you have inspired me to inspire my husband.


  44. Frank Stitt's book is fabulous, Sam. I have it and use it frequently!
    Congrats to the winner of your restaurant contest!

    I love mussels, but must confess Meakin's recipe is unusual...I like the tomatoes and pernod. Will try that next time.

  45. What a gorgeous recipe! I'm from Asheville, where in WNC are you?

  46. Tell Meakin I'm saving a spot at my cooktop just for him next time ya'll are in Texas!! Yum ~LeslieMichele

  47. Hey Sam, Tell Meakin he is one okay cook. I'd love to borrow him for a day. My hubby loves mussels.

  48. I would've come to Asheville for the get together! I love Asheville.
    How come I never think to make mussels at home? I love them!

  49. Sam, I am just getting in from out of town, and I have to thank you again for the wonderful cookbook! It was here when I got home, and I'm SO excited. YEA!

    I also hope to visit Chez BonBon as well as some other wonderful places in Birmingham. And speaking of wonderful, Meakin's dish looks divine. Thanks for the recipe!

    I checked with my sister, and my little niece is going to be the line chef at Muriel's. So I will give you the info on that if you are down that way and want to dine there. She is a doll. We are all very proud of her.

    Again, my thanks for this wonderful cookbook. I will treasure it!


    Sheila :-)

  50. wow these mussels look amazing I want some fresh bread to mop it up lol

  51. Congratulations to the winner!
    I wished I could go and cook the mussels right now, thank you for the recipe!

  52. Mussels are one of my favorite foods and I love the addition of the tomatoes to the recipe.

  53. When my husband I first started dating (around 10 years ago to this day) we spent a wonderful afternoon at Bottega. We drove over from Tuscaloosa and spent the day shopping and eating!!! As poor grad school students it was a nice treat. This recipe looks divine however I must admit that cooking mussels really intimidates me - go figure! Beautiful post!

  54. what a beautiful dish... looks just divine. thank you for sharing this.

  55. Your dish is impressive. That surely looks like a restaurant meal.

  56. Congrats to the winner! I had a feeling that the restaurant was in the deep south. The men were dressed like gentlemen and that is not something you see in all the states.

    The mussels look outstanding. I love the flavor combination in your white wine sauce.

  57. Birmingham Alabama! I totally missed that one. :) Although I did guess it was in the United States!

  58. I love mussels! This broth must taste divine.I would eat it like soup and enjoy every last drop!

  59. I'd love to try this with another fish... don't do shell, so some lovely Alaskan salmon would be a nice sub..... nice looking soup/bisque... :) and, happy anniversary of blog! nice to have come across it!


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