Dana Treat – Treat Yourself

Moules et Frites

Posted November 1, 2010

One of the questions I get most often is whether or not I make meat for Randy.  The answer is not.  I have never cooked meat or poultry.  Or lamb or pork or rabbit – do those count as meat or are they in another category?  Anyway, no I don’t make meat for him.  I wouldn’t know the first thing about cooking it.  I stopped eating meat when I was 16 and started cooking when I was around 22, so I have never cooked meat of any kind.  I also really like to taste my food – if for no other reason than to make sure it is properly seasoned – so I would not feel comfortable making something I won’t eat.

However, once in a great while, I make fish.  In the summer, Randy likes to grill salmon outside but occasionally I am moved to do something with it in the oven (but not moved enough to eat it).  I’ve made these crab cakes a number of times and even though I have never tasted them, I know they are great because people go absolutely crazy for them.  Theirs is always the first empty platter.

The non-vegetarian thing I make most often is mussels.  Why?  I don’t eat them.  But Randy loves them and they are, by far, one of the easiest and quickest meals I make.  I also make mussels because mussels are moules in French and you can’t have moules without frites.

French fries are my favorite food in the entire world.  Hands down, no questions asked.  I always told Randy that whenever I found out I was pregnant, I would have french fries for dinner that night.  And I did.  Both times.  For me, two of the most wonderful things about being pregnant were eating dessert after dinner every single night (real dessert – like cake) and ordering my veggie burger with fries instead of salad every single time.  And not feeling guilty about it.

So yes, I love my fries but I also love my skinny jeans and the two do not go together.  Believe me.  That is why I love making them in the oven.  Some people would say that they are not technically fries since they are not, um, fried.  I really don’t care.  For me, they are just as satisfying and really even more so, since I can truly enjoy them without a second thought.  Lots of ketchup is key for me too.

So before I tell you how I make my frites, allow me to tell you how I make my moules.  This recipe is for one (since I don’t eat them) and I adapt it depending on what I have in my refrigerator.  Someone from the onion family, someone aromatic, someone herby, and white wine are the keys here.

Moules for One
Dana Treat Original

Just so you have an idea of how versatile this recipe is, I have swapped out leeks, onions, scallions, fennel, thyme, and sherry for the ingredients you see listed here.  Randy always loves them.

Olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
1 pound mussels, rinsed well and beards pulled off
¼ cup white wine (preferably one you would drink)
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped

In a medium Dutch oven with a lid, heat just enough olive oil to coat the bottom.  Add the shallot and celery and adjust the heat to medium.  Add a large pinch of salt and sauté just until the vegetables start to get soft, about 5 minutes.  Carefully pour in the mussels and give them a good stir.  Pour in the wine and then sprinkle in the rosemary.  Give it another good stir, then lower the heat to medium-low and cover the pot.  Allow to cook for six minutes, giving the pot a good shake a couple of times.  Remove the lid and discard any mussels that haven’t opened.  Pour into a shallow bowl and serve with grilled bread.  And frites.

I have made these countless times and believe it or not, it is a little tricky getting them to turn out right.  If you love potatoes as much as I do, these will never be bad but use my tips to make them great.  For two people I would start with 2 large russet potatoes, 1½ tablespoon of olive oil, at least a teaspoon of salt and a lot of black pepper.  You will want your oven at 400ºF.  They will bake anywhere from anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes for the first leg.  It all depends on how brown you like them, how thin you cut your potatoes, your oven, etc.  After I do the flip, it’s just another 5 minutes or so to completely warm them through.  Here are my tips to get the most out of your frites.  (You don’t have to peel them but I do.)

1)  Trim your potatoes. Unless you are someone who likes a bit of burnt stuff on the ends of your frites (I know people who do), I would trim off the ends of your potatoes.  If I have a particularly bulbous one, I will trim off the sides too.  Then try to cut them in the as even pieces as possible.  That way they will bake and brown evenly.

2)  Soak your potatoes. Fill a large bowl with cold water and place the cut-up potatoes in the bowl for at least an hour.  This will remove some of the excess starch and which will keep them from sticking to the baking sheet and also make them crispier.

3)  Dry your potatoes. After their hour-long bath, it is important to dry them as well as possible.  I throw them in a kitchen towel and rub for a minute or two, then dry each one individually.  Lovingly.

4)  Don’t crowd your potatoes. For maximum flavor and texture, you want contact with the pan.  If you put too many frites on any pan, they will start to steam rather than bake.  Make sure each frite is touching the pan, not lolling about on another frite.  If you are making a lot, use more than one pan or bake them in batches.

5)  Go easy on the oil. I don’t just say this for healthy reasons.  If you use too much oil, the potatoes are likely to get soggy.  1½ tablespoon is about enough for 2 potatoes – 2½ tablespoons at most.  Just make sure you take the time to really mix coat all the frites with oil.  You could do this coating thing in a bowl, but why?  Just do the coating, mixing and salting directly on the baking sheet.  And speaking of salt…

6)  Be generous with salt. Potatoes of any kind need lots of salt.  These are no exception.

7)  Don’t move them around too much. Resist the urge to keep pulling them out of the oven and turning them over.  This is the tip that took me the longest to embrace.  I was always sure they were sticking and would try to move them around which would leave me with lots of severed frites.  The key is to actually let them stick and then cook – that way they will release.  Trust me.  They will not be browned on all sides.  The Earth will continue to spin on its axis.

8)  Be sure to make enough. People love these.  It’s not just me.  Be sure to plan on at least one potato per person and more if you have big eaters.  Moules are a light meal so you will be surprised how many frites you will want to eat alongside them.

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