Traditional moules-frites are so popular that we often forget their equally delicious cousins: moules-farcies, or stuffed mussels, broiled in the oven and served something like clams casino.
Persillade is a traditional mix of parsley and often garlic, and it is the way I have most frequently encountered stuffed mussels. Sometimes they come with a broiled crust of Parmesan latticed over the top, but in this rendition, I lighten up the flavors with a splash of anise-d Pastis. The butter and the Pastis, under the hot sun of the broiler, collapse down into the half-shell mussels, as the garlic softens and sweetens and the crumbs crust into molehills of flavor.
Pastis was first created as a foil to its anise-flavored cousin Absinthe. Less alcoholic and lacking an allegedly hallucinogenic ingredient, Pastis, around the turn of the twentieth century, became less a nighttime trip and more an afternoon aperitif. Also unlike its green progenitor, Pastis is bottled with sugar, so it is a liqueur, and not a spirit.
When not paired with mussels, Pastis is generally served in a glass, alongside a jug of water and often a pile of ice cubes. Then, the drinker can chill and dilute the spirits as he wishes. My favorite part is watching the translucent liquor turn cloudy, like an afternoon science experiment, when the water sinks into the Pastis, transforming instantly from clear skies to rain clouds.
Pastis and Persillade Stuffed Mussels
- 1 pound mussels, on the half shell
- 3/4 cup baguette crumbs
- 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Pastis
- 1 tablespoon fennel fronds, chopped
- 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- Rock salt, for baking
- Lemon wedges, for serving
Preheat the broiler.
In a bowl, rub together the crumbs, butter, Pastis, fennel fronds, parsley, and garlic—and salt and pepper.
Lay the mussels out on a layer of rock salt on a baking sheet. The rock salt will keep the mussels level, and prevent all the delicious juice and filling from falling out onto the pan. Divide the topping among the mussels. Broil for 10 minutes, and serve hot, with lemon wedges.
Have your fishmonger prepare your mussels on the half shell for you. Just ask; they are usually very accommodating about preparing shellfish.
To make baguette crumbs, just toss some day-old baguette into the food processor and whirl around until you have crumbs. Any fresh white breadcrumbs would work here.