Poulet Gauche Mussels

The mussel recipe is a good example of the goal of Poulet Gauche food. Calais is a port city and its citizens ate seafood. Go to any French restaurant today on the Atlantic coast and you will most often find an appetizer of mussels served in its own juice. A bowl overflowing with blue-black mussel shells reflecting the candlelight is a staple at the Poulet Gauche for both the eyes and the mouth.

The original recipe is gratefully credited to D. Eleanor Scully and Terrence Scully (see Bibliography), as adapted from the Viandier of Tallevant. At their first appearance at the Poulet Gauche the mussels were accompanied by the Scullys' Green Garlic Sauce. I have noted the Scullys' original ingredients, my changes, and the final form of the recipe.

Mussels, Scullys' version: Fresh mussels boiled in water with white vinegar or white wine with mint leaves. Mussels are served drained and shelled on the half shell.

Green Sauce, Scullys' version: Greenery (parsley, sorrel, or rosemary), crushed garlic, white breadcrumbs, equal parts white wine vinegar and lemon juice, small amount ginger.

The Good Huswife's Jewell (London, 1596) calls for a broth of butter, chopped onions and pepper. The cleaned mussels are boiled in the broth, shells and all, and served forth.

Poulet Gauche Mussels:

Clean up to six pounds of mussels, washing them several times and removing their beards. If the shells are cracked or the mussels do not open and close discard. You cannot clean mussels too much; sandy mussels are not tasty.

If cooking over a stove, use a heavy-bottomed stock pot. Over a open hearth fire we use a thick redware cauldron. (Redware should be prepared by soaking the pot with water beforehand.) Bring 1 inch of water to boil in the bottom of the pot. Add equal parts white wine and vinegar to bring liquid level up to 2 inches. I use apple cider vinegar in the Poulet Gauche since apples were common in this region of France. At home I use balsamic vinegar. During the summer I add mint, about a handful. During the winter I use chopped onions or leeks. Add mussels, seethe until mussels open wide. Discard unopened mussels. Pepper broth to taste. Usually served in a redware pan with the broth poured over.

Poulet Gauche Green Sauce:

The green sauce is served in a small bowl with the mussels. Our patrons use it on everything, including the trenchers.

-J. Prisbylla

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