What to Eat in France: Mouclade de l’île de Ré, Curry and Cream Mussels from the Island of Ré
Moules de Bouchot, or Farmed Mussels
Humans have been eating mussels forever. Even the South American Indians left behind piles of millions of shells, and there is evidence that some prehistoric people used the shells as spoons.
Moules de bouchot are a specialty of this region, the Poitou-Charentes, where they are farmed. They are smaller than mussels brought in from the sea.
The story has it that this method of farming mussels was started by a shipwrecked Scotsman (or Irishman?), Patrick Walton, in 1235. Although the locals took him in, he was stranded and without money, so he decided to take up his usual occupation of hunting sea birds. He strung his nets along the coast, holding them in place with wooden posts stuck into the ground. To his great surprise he discovered that his posts were “invaded” by tiny mussels that multiplied at a phenomenal rate. He soon changed professions, and started trapping mussels and fattening them — they were a lot faster to fatten than birds — and in so doing invented the first mussel farms using young tree trunks (bouchot means young tree trunk). It is now common practice on the Atlantic Coast of France.
Mouclade, or Curry and Cream Mussel Stew
The word mouclade comes from the Saintongeais word moucle, which simply means mussel. Saintongeais is the Langue d’Oc dialect spoken in the Charente region.
4 1/2 lbs small mussels
3 medium-sized shallots
1 T. chives, chopped
4 1/2 T. salt butter
2 pinches curry
1 cup dry white wine
6/10 cup liquid cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Large cooking pan
- Scrub mussels with a stiff brush under cold running water, scraping off any “beards.”
- Wash shallots. Remove skin and chop.
- Chop chives.
- In a cooking pan large enough to comfortably hold all the mussels, melt half the butter. Add shallots and curry and sweat.
- Pour in white wine. Add mussels. Mix well and cover over medium heat, stirring from time to time.
- Cook until all the mussels are open. If a few don’t open, discard them.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove mussels from pan. Set aside in a warm place while preparing the sauce.
- Pour cooking juice off through a filter, then pour it back into the pan. Bring to a boil until it reduces by half.
- Pour in cream. Reduce until it forms a smooth sauce.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the second half of the butter and beat with a whip.
- Add chives.
- Distribute mussels evenly in four shallow soup dishes.
- Pour sauce evenly over the four dishes and serve immediately,