You know that someone is bringing culinary knowledge bordering on the virtuosic when she alludes to the way mussels are served with a dollop of crème fraiche in Normandy. You won’t, however, find a dollop perched atop these mussels, because Renee Erickson prefers to stir the crème fraiche into a heady broth of hard apple cider, Dijon mustard, and tarragon just before serving. It’s just one of many examples from my favorite cookbook of the year A Boat, A Whale, and A Walrus of making a classic dish your own. As a whole, the book is an ode to tinkering with tradition as it’s so comfortably expressed in the Pacific Northwest where Erickson calls home. Having inherited the stalwart pairing of moules-frites, tinkering is all you can do. I’ve done it by echoing the autumnal flavors of cider and mustard in the mussels with sweet potato in the frites.
CIDER MUSSELS with DIJON, CRÈME FRAICHE, TARRAGON
sweet potato fries, thyme and sea salt
for 4 generous servings, recipe by Renee Erickson:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 cups dry hard cider
3 pounds mussels, cleaned and debearded
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, for seasoning
3/4 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup loosely packed whole tarragon leaves
crusty bread, for serving
In a large, high-sided saucepan or soup pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add the shallots and cook, stirring, until the shallots are soft, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the mustard, add the cider, then increase the heat to medium-high. Add the mussels and cook, covered, until they begin to open, about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and begin transferring the mussels that have cooked to a large bowl, stirring and prodding until all the mussels have opened and have been transferred to the bowl. (Discard any mussels that do not open.) Increase the heat to high and simmer the cider for 3 minutes, or until it has reduced by about a third. Season the liquid to taste with lemon juice and salt, then reduce the heat to low. Return the mussels to the pot, add the crème fraîche and tarragon, and stir gently until the mussels are warmed through and coated with the cream. Serve immediately, with the bread.
SWEET POTATO FRIES with THYME & SEA SALT
for 4-5 servings:
4-5 sweet potatoes, peeled
3-4 tablespoons cornstarch*
thyme leaves from one bunch
flaky sea salt
*The cornstarch will help to ensure crispy fries (which is a whole thing with sweet potato fries). Slice the sweet potatoes into fries. Toss them with cornstarch in a bag. Heat oil on medium-high flame and fry the sweet potatoes in batches until browned and crispy. Remove from oil onto a paper towel-lined platter. Toss the fries with thyme and sea salt.