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.
|Photo from Delish.com
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
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.