A Mussel Master Shares 3 Takes on Moules-Frites

La Moule's Aaron Barnett takes us on a world tour of the versatile shellfish.

By Benjamin Tepler September 21, 2015 Published in the October 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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Aaron Barnett is no stranger to the classic moules-frites, or “mussels and fries,” a staple at his four-year-old bouchon St. Jack. But in September, Barnett took matters even further with La Moule: his new SE Clinton Street pub is devoted entirely to variations on the Belgian dish, globetrotting from Spanish to Thai. Here, Barnett gives us the simple formula for tackling three of his richly flavored, aromatic takes on moules at home—employing everything from Belgian ales to chorizo to Old Bay to infuse the humble shellfish with international flair.

Steamed Mussels à la Aaron Barnett

Serves 1–2

  • 1 lb mussels, soaked in cold water for 20 minutes and debearded
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • Classique, Espagnole, or Maine seasoning
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • Lemon juice, salt, and pepper for seasoning

STEAM Combine the mussels, garlic, and seasonings in a large bowl. (Pick one of the three options below.) Heat a large pot or deep skillet over very high heat, dump in the bowl’s contents, and cover with a lid. Steam for 6 minutes, or until the mussels just begin to open, shaking the pot occasionally.

FINISH SAUCE Transfer opened mussels to a serving bowl with a slotted spoon. Add butter and lemon to the remaining liquid in the pot and reduce until thickened slightly, about a minute. Add parsley and pour the broth over the mussels. Skip the fries at home and serve with baguette and aioli.*

Three Variations

CLASSIQUE [Sweet-Wheaty-Buttery]

Combine 1 tbsp finely chopped shallot with ½ bottle of Belgian ale.

ESPAGNOLE [Spicy-Acidic-Rich]

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat and sweat ¼ lb Spanish chorizo (bulk, broken into bits), ½ bell pepper and ¼ yellow onion (both julienned), and a pinch of smoked paprika until peppers and onion are translucent. Add ½ cup dry sherry and ¼ cup white wine when preparing mussels.

MAINE [Salty-Smoky-Celery]

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat and sweat 6-inch link of kielbasa cut into ½-inch rounds and ¼ cup yellow onion, julienned, until fat is slightly rendered and onion is translucent. Combine with 1 bottle of Budweiser, 1 cob of corn cut into quarters, 6 boiled baby red potatoes (halved), and 1½ tbsp Old Bay seasoning when preparing mussels.

*Barnett’s accompanying aioli recipes:

Classique Aioli 

  • 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 clove garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 2-3 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Combine all ingredients except oil in a food processor. Blend on high speed while slowly adding oil in a thin stream.

Espagnole Aioli 

To the classique recipe, add (after blending):

  • 1 tbsp Sriracha
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika

Maine Aioli

To the classique recipe, add (after blending): 

  • ¼ cup chopped kosher dill pickles
  • 2 tsp dill pickle juice
  • 2 tbsp chopped dill
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