I have not come here to tell you about the rain. Really, I haven’t. I will save those rants until at least next week when you might have forgotten that it’s all I seem to be doing lately. Spring in Ottawa is usually on the wet side, but never as much as this year. I’ve seriously considered sleeping in my rain boots since they seem to be on my feet more often than not. OK, I complained a little. I just can’t help it.
Though I’d usually be hard pressed to find a bright side to the ever-grey gloom that is Ottawa in April, I have to admit that this past weekend was an eye opener. A wonderfully warm, and sunny awakening that was appreciated that much more as a result of the grey days that preceded it. After on and off weeks of seeing umbrellas where faces would normally exist, there was no better reward than seeing the ear-to-ear grins of just about anyone who timidly stepped foot outside their front doors. And as though it was planned just for us, the weather decided to agree, not a second too soon, in time for our local Farmers Market to kick off the season.
This is Mr. GL. He’s usually the first to run for cover from my lens, but I got him this time.
As we weren’t sure how long this token from Mother Nature would last, we wanted to be sure to soak it all in as best we could. And if you know me, you know that means eating outside on the balcony. Of course, we were surrounded by stacked bins, my bicycle, planters filled with last year’s soil, and a barbecue (we haven’t had sun long enough to warrant prepping the balcony for summer), we still enjoyed every little ray of sunshine that graciously cloaked our skin.
Undoubtedly, one of the best parts of Moules Frites is using the mussel shells to pick at your frites.
While out on our Sunday jaunt, Mr GL and I found ourselves at a family run fish market that boasted some pretty lovely looking mussels. And what better to sit outside and pick at lazily than a batch of mussels…and maybe some french fries. If you’re unfamiliar with Moules Frites (Mussels & Fries), it’s something you should try and aquaint yourself with sooner rather than later. Primarily a Belgian or French bistro treat, they are the perfect meal to share with friends over loud, excited conversation, or perfectly acceptable to share over pints of Belgian beers on a lax date night. Of course, as you might have guessed, Mr GL did not take part in the eating of mussels, but rather, a crispy roasted chicken leg. Because mussels are such a cinch to make, it’s easy to make a batch for one. Don’t let a picky eater hold you back from the joys of the poor man’s shellfish.
If you hadn’t already gathered from previous posts, I have a dipping problem. A serious one. I will dip anything into anything, so it goes without saying that these frites were not complete without a creamy dip to accompany them. If you’ve been avoiding aioli, defined as a garlic mayonnaise but often refers to any flavoured mayo, because you think it’s a fancy dip that takes time and many ingredients to create, you’d be sadly mistaken. It’s one of the easiest dips and even you, yes you, the kitchen novice, can whip it up in mere seconds with a few kitchen staples.
Moules Frites with Garlic Aoili
I steamed my mussels in Hoegaarten, a white wheat beer, but the steaming liquid variations are endless. White wine, Absinthe, Beer, Stock…. so feel free to switch it up for a change in pace.
The mussel recipe is enough for one. Double the mussels, beer, cream and Dijon mustard for two.
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1 cup canola, plus more for frying
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
5-6 russet potatoes, cut into 1/4” thick sticks
1lb mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1 leek, sliced thin (light green and white parts only)
2 tbsp butter
1 cup wheat beer
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Add the salt and garlic to a mortar and, using your pestle, grind them together until a garlic paste forms.
In a bowl, add the Dijon, egg yolk and garlic paste. Whisk until combined. Whisking constantly (put a towel under the bowl to keep it from wobbling around), add the oil in a slow steady stream until it starts to emulsify and thicken. Whisk in the lemon juice. Set aside.
In a 6qt (or larger) pot over medium-high heat, pour canola oil to a depth of 2”. When oil reads 375 on a deep-fry thermometer, add potatoes and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fries to a wire rack to cool. Increase oil temperature to 385. Working in batches, add fries to oil and cook until golden brown and crisp. 4-5 minutes. Return fries to rack and season with salt.
If your fries are a little too greasy, which can happen if your oil isn’t hot enough, put them in a preheated 400 oven for 10 minutes.
In a large pot over medium heat, add the butter. Once melted and bubbling, add the sliced leeks and cook until tender and soft, 5 minutes. Pour in the beer and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the mussels, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cover. Cook until mussels have opened, 5 -6 minutes. Any mussels that have no opened after 5-6 minutes should be discarded. Transfer mussels to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. Remove pot from heat and add cream, a little at a time, whisking it into the mussel broth. Whisk in Dijon and add mussels back to pot.
Serve mussels with frites and aioli. And be sure to have an extra bowl around for discarded shells.
I also needed to make mention, once again, about the pie we got from Hall’s Apple Market at the Ottawa Farmers Market on Sunday. It was one of the most delicious pies I’ve had in a long time. It boasts a tender, flaky crust and is filled to the brim with beautifully sweet and tangy wild blueberries. It goes without saying that I will be back, perhaps multiple times, over the summer.