They say Belgian and Northern French people are almost religious about moules -frites (mussels & fries), but so are almost all French Quebecers. Rain or shine, snow storm or ice storm, none of my friends can pass on a well-prepared bowl of fresh steamy bivalves floating in a cloudy-winy-garlicky broth with French fries and crusty bread on a side. Each time we discover a good place serving this dish, it spawns a new sensation. This particular post, for instance, was inspired by a little gem place in Verdun we discovered recently, the ‘Bistro Entre Ciel et Terre’.
The bistro has opened its doors back in 2011, and within the record time became No. 725 out of 4543 restaurants in Montreal rated on Tripadvisor (as of today), which is a big deal for Montreal (i.e. Jamie Oliver’s Maison Publique is No. 763 on that list), winning also the first prize of the young Entrepreneurs of Verdun in 2013. Once you try their honest food (priced very reasonably) you will know why.
From the Home Burger with Melted Brie and Caramelized Onions garnished with microgreens (which was of a superb quality and tasted so much more than just a ‘lump of ground beef between two buns’); to ideal endorsers of the fans of Les Canadiens – merguez pogos; to their signature dish: Moules Mariniere, the place which is steadily conquering the hearts of many tourists and Montrealers.
How come I didn’t know about the place? Perhaps I was too much grieving over the death of ‘Mas Cuisine’ in the neighborhood (which re-appeared recently in the Mile End as a new ‘Wilfrid sur Laurier’
brasserie where Michel Ross reunited with chef Suhl). Obviously, the explosion of Griffintown development did not inhibit Verdun’s Chef Georges Nory and he’s bringing his French bistro/Italian trattoria/American diner classics to the new level. The rustic-meets-funky bistro interior adds to the hipster feel, but with only 20+ seats in winter you’d better nip to it fast. I’m definitely coming back.
Bistro Entre Ciel et Terre
750 rue de L’eglise
Verdun, QC H4G 2M8
The oversized mussels they serve in Bistro are most probably a special order, but don’t shy away from a bag of fresh mussels in IGA, METRO or LOBLAWS if you are ready to make your own Moules Mariniere at home. This recipe of was given to me hush-hush almost 20 years ago by the first French Chef Manou in Kiev (he also happened to originate from Normandy). He often served our diplomatic receptions and each time everyone was particularly smitten by his Moules Mariniere, so I had no choice, but to take a note of his recipe. Now that thousands of the wine steamed mussels recipes are surfing the internet in mass, you are in a privileged position to try, test and select your own favorite version. And, hey, they are very easy to prepare – with all the right ingredients you are basically 30 minutes away from that bowl of goodness.
I had them with these crispy-crunchy rainbow roasted fries, for which I used a regular potato, sweet potato and purple yam (procured in Chinese grocery). These three ‘potatoes’ worked really well together balancing the regular potato crunch with the sweetness of sweet potatoes and balmy delicate tuber yams, making a healthier match to the plump steamed mussels. Feel free, however, to use any other root vegetable of your choice (carrots, celery root, turnips and parsley are great too).
Here are some killer apps to speed up the healthier roasting fries method while still having a restaurant-style results: (1) parboil the fries before roasting for exactly two minutes uncovered; (2) drain, toss with oil (duck fat you’ve saved from the roasted duck
would be a great savory alternative), garlic and herbs of your choice (rosemary always marries great to fries, but so does thyme or tarragon, fresh or dried).
Try to align the cooking process of both (for that you’ll have to begin with fries and proceed with mussels once the fries are in the oven) to have this outstanding meal, which is definitely romantic under any and all circumstances. Don’t forget some crusty baguette to sop that fragrant broth. Enjoy, or should I say with the French sign-song lilt Julia Child was trying to imitate for years, Bon appétit?
CHEF MANOU’S MOULES MARINIERE
Yields: 2 generous portions
1 pack of mussels (2 lbs or 910 g), cleaned under the cold running water
3 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped finely, OR 1 cup of chopped shallots (5-7 shallots)
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
Small pinch of chili flakes (optional)
1 bouquet garni (small bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, 3-4 branches of fresh thyme and 2-3 bay leaves)
1 ½ cup dry white wine
3-4 branches of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
3-4 green onion branches, chopped
1 ½ cup 10% cream or milk (if milk intolerant, substitute with clam juice)
Clean the mussels under the cold running water removing the beard-strings or barnacles you might find on some with your fingers or paring knife. Press the shells of any open mussels with your fingers: discard them if they don’t close.
Heat the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven (enough to take all the mussels: the pot has to be half-full) over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and chili flakes and cook for 1 minute until fragrant and onions are translucent. Add bouquet garni and half of white wine. Bring to boil on a high heat and add mussels. Close the pot tightly with the lid and cook for 4 minutes, shaking the pot 3-4 times. Open the lid and add the rest of wine, cream and chopped parsley and scallions. Close the lid back and steam mussels for another minute shaking the pot to help the juices and steam distribute evenly. Remove the pot from heat. Discard bouquet garni.
Divide the mussels into two big (preferably warmed) bowls. Ladle the broth over the shells. Serve immediately with fries (check the tips on great home-made fries and try the Three Root Fries below for a change and uplifted taste) and, of course, crusty bread to sop up that magical broth. Don’t forget to place some empty bowls for shells and some finger bowls with lemon skin water along to indulge in the dish ‘comme il faut’. Enjoy!
PS: Discard unopened mussels if any.
ROASTED RAINBOW HERB & GARLIC FRIES
Yields: 2 portions
1 big potato (250 g), peeled and cut into matchsticks lengthwise
1 big sweet potato (250 g), peeled and cut into matchsticks lengthwise
1 big purple yam (250 g), peeled and cut into matchsticks lengthwise
3-4 tbsp duck fat or high heat cooking oil
1 tbsp rosemary, dried
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed and coarsely chopped
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Cover the fries with cold water in a medium pan. Bring to boil on a high heat and boil for exactly two minutes not covered with lid. Drain the water and toss the fries carefully with fat or oil, garlic and rosemary.
Spread in a single layer into the foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove the sheet from the oven, flip the fries carefully with spatula and return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes or until crispy and browned (preferably, flipping fries one more time in between to make sure they will not be glued to the foil because of their sugar content).
Season fries with salt and pepper. Serve hot with garlicky aioli sauce
on a side for dipping.