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My stepfather comes from Normandy, which I secretly love for the extremely selfish reason that it means I get to visit a whole different part of France I ordinarily wouldn't and eat what I would otherwise dream of eating: mussels.
Across the bridge from Le Havre, which was destroyed in World War II and was rather hastily rebuilt, resides an adorable little seaside town called Honfleur. There, the harbor is lined with little restaurants, cafés, and bistros—some worth their salt. The dish to get is mussels. In America, we prize the giant black beasts, but in France, you get tiny, sweet, succulent mussels that I so much prefer. They come as a meal: a million little mussels in a great enameled iron pot, the lid of which quickly becomes the bowl for your million little shells. On the side comes a torn baguette and crunchy, salty fries. And at the bottom of your great mussel pot comes the sauce you ordered.
You can, if you're enterprising, try about twenty sauces. Marinière, made with white wine and onions. Dijon, made with mustard. Cream, which is Marinière with sweet, thick Normandy cream stirred in. Provençal, made with garlic and tomatoes. Garlic. Cider. Beer. Pistou. And maybe the most unique, and certainly my favorite: Roquefort, the cream sauce with sharp, pungent blue Roquefort cheese melted in. Gorgeous!
This is the perfect example of how choosing some killer ingredients means you don't have to do any work. The whole dish takes five minutes to cook, maybe ten with prep. Sweet shallots start the white wine and thyme broth; later the mussels contribute their briny liquor. It's finished with that sharp, distinct Roquefort blue and the sweet, thick cream that makes Normandy Normandy. It's perfectly balanced, with attitude. Eat it with your fingers like the Normans do, using an empty shell to pluck out fresh mussels and plop them into your mouth. Then break the shell in half and use one side as a spoon for all that sauce.
All you need is a bottle of dry, cold hard Norman apple cider and you're in business. Or Honfleur. Whichever you prefer.
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