If you’ve ever holidayed in northern France you’ve probably come across moules a la creme, the classic Normandy dish that consists of mussels cooked in a wine and cream sauce. It is a delicious and surprisingly simple dish to make and is perfect for warm summer evenings eating out.
Mussels, or moules as our Gallic cousins prefer to call them, occupy one of our seafood blindspots. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many fishmongers in the UK that:
- Stock fresh mussels regularly.
- Sell them at an affordable price.
Alas, the closest many people get to this wonderful seafood is the vacuum-packed ready meal-type supermarket fayre.
If you like fish, it is worthwhile seeking out your nearest fishmonger – they offer a far better service and choice than the supermarkets – plus you’ll be supporting a local business. A good fishmonger will offer tips on cleaning fish, recipes, what to buy and they will order stock specially for you.
I am lucky enough to live close to a supermarket that has an excellent fish counter, with everything from live lobster and crab to razor clams and carp. It is also great value for money (something I am ever more conscious of these days), I can pick up a kilo for around £6.50. So, whenever I want to remind myself of those balmy summer evenings eating outdoors in France, I pop over and buy a couple of kilos of mussels.
Moules a la creme is a great starter or main and can be accompanied by crusty bread or chips (frites) depending on how many will be dining. However, remember if you are cooking for a large group, you need a large pan – preferably a stockpot with a cover.
This version feeds five and takes about 20 minutes.
1.5 kilo of fresh mussels
1 bottle of Muscadet
2 cloves of garlic
1 finely chopped onion
A bunch of fresh parsley roughly chopped
250ml of double cream or creme fraiche, depending on how rich a dish you prefer
Salt and pepper
Optional crusty French bread and fries
Cleaning your mussels
Empty your moules into the sink and cover with cold water. Remove any that fail to close when immersed – give them a couple of taps on the sink if they still don’t close put them in the bin.
There will be wastage, there always is. Don’t be tempted to include those are only slightly open. It is always best to play safe with shellfish
Take a small paring knife and carefully de-beard the mussels (removing the straggly seaweed that anchors the mussel), you can also scrape away any other crustaceans that have attached themselves to the shell. This is the most time consuming part of the preparation – but if you are accompanied by a bottle of chilled white wine, the job will soon be done.
Cooking moules a la creme
- Melt the butter and saute the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes – until the onion sweats, softens and becomes semi translucent, taking care not to burn the garlic.
- Add wine – I prefer lavish use of the bottle, but you can just as easily add only a glass and make up the rest with water. The main thing is that you have enough liquor in the pan to steam your moules.
- Bring to the boil, pour in the cleaned mussels, and cook for two minutes. Remove lid and add half of the parsley then give everything a good stir. Replace cover.
- Allow to steam for a further three minutes – check the majority of the shells are open and remove from the heat.
- Stir in the cream/creme fraiche and warm through.
Serve immediately garnished with freshly chopped parsley.
Moules a la creme is a great example of classic regional cooking that has leapt beyond it Normandy roots to gastro pubs and restaurants across the UK. Rather than be temped to shell out more than a tenner for a tiny bowl of comfort. Find yourself a good fishmonger who can get you fresh mussels that you can cook yourself. It’s much more rewarding and the taste is something else.
If you like moules a la creme, why not try our recipe for whelks with mayonnaise.
For more recipes like this, take a look at our Food & Drink channelLast modified: August 22, 2023