I’m one of the few food-loving folks who did not grow up watching Julia Child though I have known that her name was synonymous for bringing French Cuisine into the American household. Last year, in my search for culinary enlightenment, I had purchased several of her The French Chef dvds. I had watched several episodes and even as I found them charming, I thought her techniques were a bit dated. It was not until I read her book My Life in France that I experienced an epiphany of utmost admiration and overwhelming fondness for a woman who had discovered her passion for cooking late in life and managed to leave an indelible mark in the world of gastronomy. Now, when I watch her dvds, I feel like I have an old friend teaching me skills that an avid home cook can learn. Her techniques weren’t dated , they were classic! As I read chapters about her life in France, I could hear the exuberance in her voice while she narrated her beginnings in an apartment she fondly called “Roo de Loo”. The book was further enhanced by the artful photography of her husband Paul – the other half of the team known as “Pulia”. This book also handed me the opportunity to show a picture of Julia’s kitchen, with its endless array of pots and pans, to the “Hungry” hubby.
“See honey, look at Julia’s pots and pans. Very important to have the right cooking implement, you know,” I enthused, as if to justify my own addiction to cookware.
I also felt the frustrations and triumphs of Julia’s experiences as she wrote her masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In a time when America was starting to move into fast food, her timing couldn’t have been worse. The publishers thought her gargantuan book wouldn’t sell and wanted her to split it up into smaller volumes. But Julia being Julia, persevered. Her book was published, she had her public-TV series, and the rest as they say is history.
Julia Child’s birthday is on August 15th. Lisa, of Champaign Taste, is hosting an event to honor the enduring legacy of this wonderful woman. I knew I just had to participate. What recipe to make? Well, I have never cooked mussels before, so let’s see if Julia can make me turn out this seafood dish like a pro.
Moules A la Mariniere –II
(Mussels Steamed with Wine, Flavorings, and Bread Crumbs)
Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
- 3 cups finely minced onions
- ¼ lb. butter
- An 8- to 10 quart enameled kettle with cover
Cook the onions slowly in the butter for about 10 minutes, until they are tender and translucent but not browned
- 2 cups light, dry white wine or 1 cup dry white vermouth
- 1-½ cups fine, dry, white bread crumbs from homemade type bread
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 1/8 tsp pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ tsp thyme
Stir in all the above ingredients, cover the kettle and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and making sure the mixture does not scorch. Remove the bay leaf.
- 6 quarts, scrubbed, soaked mussels
- 1/3 cup chopped parsley
Add the mussels. Cover and toss them in the kettle. Set over high heat, tossing frequently until the mussel shells swing open. Ladle the mussels and sauce into soup plates, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.
Julia has written her books with the home cook in mind. She intuitively knows what questions might arise when someone is new to handling a certain ingredient or dish. In her introduction to her mussel recipes, she clearly explains how to clean and prepare this particular seafood.
It is important to scrub the shells of the mussels with a hard brush to remove the dirt that may cloud their flavor, she says. Just as necessary is to soak the mussels in water so they can release the sand that is secreted in their interior. Some cooks also add 1/3 cup of flour to 2 quarts soaking water so the mussels can eat the flour to fatten them up as well as disgorge the sand more thoroughly. Beat the flour first with a little water to mix it well. Then, after soaking the mussels, lift them into a colander, and rinse them in cold water. It is also good to pull the hair protruding from the one side of the shell halves.
The rest of the recipe was easy. I did not have fresh breadcrumbs so I used Panko crumbs. This thickened the broth too much that it almost looked like a batter. I quickly added more wine. After a few minutes it started to look more watered down. I then added the mussels and waited for them to open, shaking the kettle every so often. How I managed not to toss the entire contents of the pot all over the kitchen was a miracle.
I have not cooked much from Julia’s books, but knowing that I have them on my bookshelf is a very comforting thought. I know that if I were to look for a recipe or an answer to a cooking question, I can find a clear answer in the wealth of information secured in her books. I had always wanted to read “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and “The Way to Cook” cover to cover. I might do just that before this year ends.