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Bastille Day is perfect for mussels, frites

Bastille Day is July 14. Celebrate France and its culinary contributions with this classic pair.

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Frites are also quintessentially French. Or perhaps Belgian. Both do bang-up jobs of them. The frites here are less than authentic, whatever that is. Deep frying anything has always been a deal breaker for me, for a variety of reasons. And most frites are deep fried twice! Still, these are delicious – and a healthier alternative. Tossed with garlic-infused olive oil and herbes de Provence, they’re roasted or “oven-fried” until golden and slightly crisp on the outside. Will they make me give up real bistro pommes frites (or even bar menu french fries)? No. But they do offer an unexpected change of pace that will have friends asking for your recipe.

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Blue Kitchen

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Moules Marinières (Sailor’s Mussels)
Serves 4 to 6

3 pounds mussels, scrubbed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 medium shallots, chopped (or 1 medium onion)
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
1 bay leaf
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1-1/2 cups chopped flat-leaf parsley

Clean mussels. Scrub mussels with a stiff brush under cold running water. Discard any mussels with broken or cracked shells, or any opened mussels that don’t close when you tap their shells. Remove beards which may appear along the hinge side of the shell, using a sharp knife or pulling with your fingers. Set aside in a bowl. One benefit of farmed mussels is that they are generally cleaner than wild caught ones. This is the most time-consuming part of this dish – the rest of it happens quickly.

Heat a large, deep, lidded sautée pan or skillet over medium flame. Add olive oil and one tablespoon of butter and swirl pan to combine. Add shallots and garlic and cook until shallots soften, stirring often to avoid browning, about 3 minutes. Add wine, bay leaf and a generous grind of black pepper and bring to a boil. Do NOT add salt – the mussels will add plenty of briny, salty goodness to the sauce. Taste sauce at the very end to see if you need to add salt. We did not. Add mussels to the pan, crowding them in if necessary, cover and cook undisturbed for 4 to 5 minutes. Check to see if the mussels have opened; if most have not, replace the lid and cook just a minute or two longer.

Transfer mussels to a large bowl with a slotted spoon, discarding any that have not opened, and cover with a towel to keep warm. Increase heat under pan to high and bring sauce to a boil, letting it cook down just slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining butter in chunks, swirling pan to melt. Stir in parsley and remove from heat. The sauce will be more like a broth than a thickened sauce, which is exactly what you want. Divide mussels among 4 shallow bowls (pasta bowls are perfect for this), spoon sauce over them. Serve with slices of baguette for sopping up the sauce.

Pommes Frites. Make the garlic-infused oil for these frites at least several hours in advance. I let mine steep for a couple of days. One recipe called for just using minced garlic, but I find that minced garlic loves to burn in the oven. Besides, using the infused oil makes for a more subtle garlic hit, letting the herbes de Provence take center stage.

Oven-Fried Pommes Frites with Herbes de Provence
Serves 3 or 4 (or over-serves 2)

2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons good quality olive oil

2 large baking potatoes, Russet or Idaho
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 tablespoon dried herbes de Provence (see Kitchen Notes)