One of my favorite meals during our recent stay in the Loire Valley was a simple lunch at a streetside cafe in Tours. I will not soon forget the meal of mussels, crisp french fries, a fresh baguette and a cool glass of local Chenin Blanc. The combination brought me closer to heaven than I probably deserve.
The Loire Valley Wine Trio
This wine trio ($44 - a Buttonwood Sauvignon Blanc, a Chenin Blanc from Dan Gehrs, and a J. Wilkes Pinot Blanc) was one of the first things I put together when I got home. Technically, Pinot Blanc is Alsatian, but it is a kindred spirit, and pairs well with the recipe I present below as well as others I plan to share. When paired well, these wines can provide the same slice of Tours-streetside nirvana. So pull a cork on one of these wines, splash some into your glass, then add some fresh-shucked oysters or steam some mussels (recipe below) and you too shall experience an hour of pure happiness.
Moules Marinières are also known as "Sailor's mussels" or "Mariner's mussels." This basic dish consists of fresh mussels delicately steamed in white wine with garlic, parsley, butter, onion and cream sauce. The addition of lardons was a unique twist, adding a smokiness that permeates the dish. This smokiness, as well as the small amount of cream added to the juice, suggests that this dish pairs more nicely with a fuller-bodied wine such as the Chenin Blanc or the Pinot Blanc from today's recommended trio. Leave out the lardons and the Sauvignon Blanc is on equal terms. Leave out the cream and the Sauvignon Blanc shines!
Be sure to have a good baguette (more than you think you'll need) to dip into the delectable sauce and juices once your mussels are gone. Mussel veterans eat by using an empty mussel shell as a pincer to pick the remaining mussels from their shells - a fun way to eat with your fingers!
Ingredients (serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an opening course)
- 2+ Lbs of fresh, live mussels
- 1/2 Pound thick bacon or pancetta, cubed
- 2 cloves of chopped garlic
- 1 finely chopped shallot
- 5 fl oz (1 glass) of dry white wine
- 2 Tbsp Butter
- 1 large handful of finely chopped parsley
- 4 tbsp of cream
- salt and pepper
Clean, debeard and rinse the mussels several times in cold running water. Discard any that do not snap shut when tapped and set the rest aside in a colander. Cook the lardons in the bottom of a wide, deep pot until crispy but not burned. Remove, drain on paper towel. Leaving one Tbsp of fat, add enough butter to equal 2 Tbsp total, then add the chopped shallot and garlic. Cook for a few minutes on a medium heat until the shallots have softened.
Add the white wine and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add mussels and cover, cooking on a high heat for several minutes. Gently shake the pan several times during cooking to redistribute the mussels. It is best to remove the mussels one by one as they open, placing them in a colander with a bowl underneath to catch the juices - liquid gold. Again, discard any mussels that have remained tightly shut.
Return the lardons to the liquid and boil until reduced by half. Stir in the cream and parsley. Taste the sauce and add salt or pepper to taste. Transfer the mussels to a large bowl, pour the reduced liquid over the mussels, and serve immediately. Pair with any of these three wines and you'll agree that happiness is at hand.
Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant
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