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Mussels and Fries

While I was in Philadelphia over the holidays, I had dinner at a charming pub called Monk’s Cafe that served “Belgium’s national dish” – pots of mussels in savory sauce with fries. The combination of flavors, complemented by a good beer, was inspired.  I had many tasty bites while I was visiting Philly, but I kept thinking about this dish.

Since coming back to Berkeley, I happened upon a recipe for mussels that sounded very similar to dish I had at Monks. Still drooling at the memory of that dinner in Philly, I decided to try it out. I was a little nervous about cooking mussels for the first time, but this dish was surprisingly easy. I’m also happy to report that it’s just a good at as the mussels I had in Philadelphia. I’m generally not a fan of seafood but this recipe is a true exception.

The fries I made to accompany the mussels are probably the easiest at-home fries that you can possibly make. They take a little longer than traditional deep-fried potatoes, but they’re much less messy and a lot healthier.  The trick with these baked fries is the two-step baking process, which replicates the two-step frying process of truly delicious deep-fried fries. The fries are baked at a high temperature to cook and brown them, and then baked for another period at a lower temperature to dry them out because nobody likes soggy fries.

You’ll want the fries and the mussels to finish at the same time. To time everything perfectly, prep everything you’ll need to cook the mussels and when you have about 15 minutes left on the fries, start the pot of mussels.

Recipes from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider

Baked Fries:

  • 2-3 large baking potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt to taste

Baked Fries

Savory Mussel Stew:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 shallots
  • pinch of hot pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 pounds mussels, scrubbed
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 Tbs. butter

Pot of Mussels

I found it quite good to pull the mussels out of the shell and let them soak in the broth. Don’t forget to enjoy this meal with good beer!

 

For the most of my life, I did not like mayonnaise. The white, slimy condiment just seemed gross and completely unappetizing. That all changed when I worked at a French restaurant here in Berkeley. That’s when I was introduced to aioli. Aioli is flavored mayonnaise but what makes it truly special is that it is handmade with fresh ingredients. Processed mayo from a jar just doesn’t compare to the real stuff. Aioli is delicious on sandwiches, in chicken salad, or as a dip for vegetables. My favorite way to enjoy aioli is as a dip for french fries.

This past weekend I went to a cookout for a friend’s birthday and I thought it was a perfect occasion to make homemade fries and garlic aioli. Aioli is quick and easy to make but this was my first attempt at making fries. I found a well-reviewed recipe at allrecipes.com and changed it up to make the fries spicy. These fries are battered like fried chicken and they turn out tender on the inside and nice and crispy on the outside. The batter adds a lot of flavor; I didn’t even salt them after they were cooked.  The garlic aioli was the perfect complement, adding another layer of flavor and texture. The fries were quickly eaten up, and were devoured within 10 minutes of getting to the party!

Garlic Aioli:

Aioli Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup mild flavored olive oil
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  • salt and pepper to taste
Mix the mayo
  1. Chop the garlic as fine as possible and crush the chopped garlic with the blade of the knife. Set aside.
  2. Whisk the egg yolk until smooth.
  3. Slowly begin adding the oil to the yolk, whisking continuously. Begin by adding a few drops and incorporate the oil into the yolk. You must add the oil a little at a time and combine thoroughly or the oil will separate out of the aioli.
  4. Once all of the oil is combined  it will be thick and yellow. At this point slowly add the lemon juice.
  5. Stir in the garlic and season with salt and pepper.

This recipe makes about 2/3 cup of aioli. It will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Battered Fries:

Fries

  • 2 1/2 pounds of potatoes
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup of warm water, as needed
  • vegetable oil for frying
  1. Cut the potatoes into french fry sized slices. Place them in cold water while you prepare the oil and batter.
  2. Combine the flour, salt, garlic salt, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Add enough warm water that the batter can be drizzled from a spoon.
  3. In a large skillet, pour in about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil and turn stove to medium heat.
  4. Once the oil is heated, dip the fries in the batter and place one at a time into the oil. Make sure they aren’t touching or they’ll stick together.
  5. After about four minutes, flip the fries over. Fry until they are golden and crispy.
  6. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
frying the fries

I lined a ceramic baking dish with paper towels and layered the fries and paper towels as they came out of the skillet. This kept them nice and hot while the rest of the fries were cooking and it absorbed all the excess oil. Since you can only fit about 10-15 fries in the skillet at a time this turned out to be pretty handy. I also had two skillets of oil frying, to speed up the process. I recommend using cast iron skillets. They heat the oil evenly plus all the oil seasons the pans nicely.

These battered fries and aioli is truly a tasty treat. Go ahead and enjoy them with a cold beer and you have a perfect cookout snack.

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