Much more rapid than stuffed mussels and also a typically Provençal mussel and spinach preparation (and one which, to the ravishment of the restaurant’s clients, never quits the daily menu at Chez-Hiély in Avignon) consists of stirring together a heavily creamed velouté made of the opening liquid (the basic velouté may be quite thick and relatively salty, the addition of cream attenuating the one and the other), parboiled, squeezed, and chopped spinach tossed rapidly in a bit of olive oil, and the shelled mussels; the mixture is then gratinéed in a hot oven or beneath high heat. Palourdes (which may be replaced by littleneck clams) are also prepared in this way.
When preparing stuffed mussels, the business of tying each mussel up is quite tiresome; those who are tempted not to bother will probably be happy with the results, but the stuffing and the sauce will have intermingled to form a general sameness of texture and taste and the mussels within the shells will have withered. When tied, the effect is very different: The fragile, membranous flesh of mussels opened alive clings, lining the inside wall of each shell half; when packed with the stuffing and tied firmly closed, the flesh has no space in which to shrink at contact with heat and gathers itself instead around the heart of stuffing, enveloping it in a neat sheath; the stuffing retains its own character, which forms a contrast to that of the sauce.
Sort over the mussels, retaining the largest—about two thirds—for stuffing, and open the remainder (as described earlier) with the wine, garlic, and herbs. Remove the opened mussels from their shells, chop them and put them aside, strain the liquid, and put the sauce to work: Stew the onion for about 15 minutes in the butter, stirring, without permitting it to brown, stir in the flour, cook for a minute or so, slowly stir in the mussels’ cooking liquid and water to attenuate the saltiness (if necessary—some water will be needed, in any case, to bring the sauce to the correct thin consistency; perhaps salt will have to be added), add the tomato, sugar, and cayenne, and leave to simmer gently while stuffing the mussels.
Open the remaining mussels by gently forcing a knife blade between the shells, opening them out but not separating them. Mix the elements of the stuffing together, spoon it into the mussels, forcing each closed, scraping free the stuffing that has been forced out while closing the mussel shells, and tying each firmly with a round or two of thread or kitchen string. Arrange them in a plat à sauter or wide earthenware poëlon, just large enough to hold them placed side by side, jointed edges down, crests in the air. Scatter over any remaining stuffing, pour over the sauce, and simmer gently, covered, for ½ hour.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.