La Mouclade Vendéenne

Mussel Stew with Saffron and Cream

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Serves

    4

Appears in

French Regional Cooking

By Anne Willan

Published 1981

  • About

Tradition has it that the farming of mussels in the Vendée dates back to 1237, when an Irish skipper, Patrick Walton, was shipwrecked on the coast. He managed to swim ashore and began to hunt and fish. Soon the sticks supporting the nets of his bird-trap were covered with huge mussels, much larger than those growing on the rocks. Mussels are still cultivated in the same way. ‘Moucle’ is the local name for mussel, and mouclade draws on the best local ingredients: butter, cream, cognac and spices brought to La Rochelle from the Orient: saffron, cayenne pepper or curry powder. Recipes vary greatly: some use no cream, and one version based on onions and garlic has no spices at all.

Ingredients

4 L mussels 7 pt
80 g butter oz+
500 g onions, chopped 1 lb
1 clove garlic, chopped
150 ml dry white wine, preferably gros plant ¼ pt
2 Tbsp cognac
pinch of saffron strands, steeped in 1—2 Tbsp boiling water
pinch of cayenne pepper
½ tsp curry powder
salt and pepper
Tbsp flour
125 ml double cream or crème fraîche* fl oz

Method

Clean the mussels* and put them in a large pot. Cover and cook dry over a high fire, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes or until they open. Discard the top shell of each and transfer the mussels to a deep serving dish, reserving the liquid. Cover the mussels and keep them warm.

Heat half the butter in a frying pan, add the onions and cook over a low fire, stirring, until soft but not brown. Then raise the heat and brown them lightly. Stir in the garlic and cook another 30 seconds; pour in the wine and cognac and flame them. Add the saffron with its liquid, the spices and pepper. Slowly pour in the mussel liquid, leaving behind any grit. Boil to reduce for 1 minute or until well flavoured.

Mix the remaining butter and the flour to a paste, forming a rich kneaded butter*.

Just before serving, heat the sauce and stir in the cream. Bring to a boil and whisk in the kneaded butter, a little at a time, until the sauce thickly coats a spoon. Simmer for 1-2 minutes and taste for seasoning: extra salt may not be needed, since the mussels are salty. Strain the sauce over the mussels and serve immediately.