This is a perfect dish to make if you have already parcooked and frozen your own fries and can take the time to whip up a quick aioli. But it’s even great with well-prepared store-bought frozen fries and a dish of Hellmann’s mayo on the side. Of course, the more you make from scratch, the greater the flavor and pleasure of this classic dish.
The timing is easy, because the mussels and fries both take only a few minutes to finish, and the mussels, once opened, can remain in the covered pot until you’re ready to serve them.
You’ll usually have to remove the mussels’ “beard,” protein threads secreted by the mussels to attach themselves to a surface, commonly a pole (they don’t typically grow in sand as clams do).
This is a good all-purpose way to cook clams and mussels: Steam them with wine and aromatics just until they open and you’re good to go. This recipe can easily be adjusted up or down depending on how many people you’re serving—figure on 1 pound of mussels per person.
Make the aioli first: Combine the garlic, salt, and lemon juice in a medium bowl and let sit for 10 minutes. Add the water and egg yolk and whisk to combine. Whisk continuously as you pour in the oil in a hair-thin stream. Once the emulsion is established, you can add the oil a little faster. You should have a thick sauce that clings to your whisk (you can also use an immersion blender). Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Start the fries: Cut your potatoes as desired, ideally into ¼-inch/6-millimeter matchsticks. Fill a large Dutch oven halfway with vegetable oil. Add the fries and put the pot over high heat. Stir the fries regularly as the oil heats to keep them from sticking to the bottom. Once it’s hot and bubbling, let the fries cook until they’re golden brown, stirring frequently so they don’t stick to the bottom. It will take about 40 minutes total, from the time you put them in the oil until they’re nice and crisp.
When the fries are nearly done, cook the mussels: Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the shallot and leek (if using) and cook, stirring until softened, a minute or so. Add the wine and several thyme sprigs. Then add the mussels. Turn the heat to high and bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-high. When the mussels are hot and have opened, about 3 minutes unless you’re cooking a real lot of them, remove the pan from the heat. Discard any mussels that did not open.
Use a skimmer to transfer the fries to a wide bowl lined with paper towels. Shake them in the bowl while seasoning them with kosher salt.
Sprinkle the parsley over the mussels and divide them among serving bowls. If you wish, reheat the cooking liquid and whisk in additional butter or crème fraîche. Ladle the sauce or liquid over the mussels. Serve with the fries in a separate bowl, with aioli for dipping on the side.
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