‘Bring on the Irish and Icelandic’ Vermouth Mussels with Tarragon Oven Fries

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You know you’re not a native Coloradan when you hear yourself say, “But it’s mid-April. For Christ’s sake, take your snow and shove it.” So…the rain-snow mix slushing up the sidewalks this morning is not endearing me to Colorado. Yes, we need the moisture. But give me warm, spring rain any day over the icy slip fest that is my walk to and from the bus stop whenever snow comes a’ knocking.

Despite my grumbling, I’m excited to make it through the busy work day so that Cameron and I can get ourselves up to Boulder for Damien Rice’s performance at the Boulder Theater tonight. I’m no longer a late-night person, but I’m willing to chug some chai during dinner to keep my eyes peeled on the stage. This will be our first chance to see Rice live, and while I’ve followed his music for many years, his newest album, My Favorite Faded Fantasy, speaks to his maturity as songwriter. He’s no longer the young upstart Irish troubadour, his lyrics reflecting the depth that comes from growing older. Now, well into my thirties, I can appreciate that.

And then there’s the opening act, the Icelandic experimental group Galagalactic promises to get the evening off to a dreamy start. Iceland 2017 or bust!

In the meantime, you came for food, and today’s recipe will feed you well without too much work. Earlier this week, after a particularly tough day at work, I came home to Cameron putting the finishing touches on one of our favorite Smitten Kitchen dinner recipes, Vermouth Mussels with Tarragon Oven Fries. I started eating mussels after trying them at a Spanish tapas restaurant downtown, and while they’re tasty, the magic behind mussels comes from the sauce/broth you cook them in. In this recipe, the vermouth simmered with butter and shallots brings out the tender flavors of the sea, and topping the mussels with tarragon adds a mild licorice note that lightens each bite. The fries are great as is, but dipping them in the leftover broth is just what I needed for a satisfying meal.

Vermouth Mussels with Fries
Image by author.

Vermouth Mussels with Tarragon Oven Fries
(a Smitten Kitchen Cookbook recipe)
Serves 2 hungry folks

Ingredients
Tarragon oven fries:
– 3 TBS olive oil

– 1 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes (We used organic Russet potatoes, and they worked great.)

– Coarse salt

– Freshly ground black pepper

– 1 1/2 TBS minced fresh tarragon

Vermouth mussels:
– 2 lbs mussels

– 3 TBS unsalted butter

– 1/4 cup minced shallots (2 large) or minced white onion

– 1/2 cup dry white vermouth

– 2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon

Instructions
1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Coat a large baking sheet with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

2. Slice the potatoes into ⅜-inch-thick matchsticks. Transfer them to a pot, and cover them with cold water. Bring the potatoes to a simmer, and let them cook until they are halfway done, about 5 minutes (a paring knife will resist going all the way through the potato). Carefully drain them (they’ll want to break, so removing them with a slotted spoon might make it easier) and pat them dry on paper towels.

3. Set the prepared baking sheet in the oven before you drain the potatoes, and let it heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the baking sheet with a pot holder. Spread the fries on sheet. Drizzle them with the remaining tablespoon olive oil; sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast them for 25 minutes, tossing the tray about to redistribute and turn the fries after 10 and then 20 minutes.

4. Remove the tray from the oven, and then toss the fries with additional seasoning, if needed, and fresh tarragon.

“Clean Your Mussels” Time
1. Place them in a big bowl of very cold water for about 10 minutes. This encourages the mussels to expel their sand. Scoop the mussels out (not dump; if you dump the sandy water over them, it defeats the purpose) one by one, and scrub them under running water. Most cultivated mussels have the bissus (beard) removed, but if one lingers, yank it toward the hinge (if you do it away from the hinge, it can kill the mussel prematurely) or cut it with a knife. Discard any mussels with chipped shells or mussels that are not completely shut; they are more than likely dead. (Gross as it sounds, the mussels need to be alive when cooked, or else you could sick.)

2. Bring the butter, shallots, and vermouth to a boil together in a medium pot. Add the mussels, cover, and steam them over high heat until they open. You can start checking at 3 minutes, but it can take up to 6. Shake them around a little from time to time to make sure they’re getting equal access to the vermouth and heat.

3. Once the mussels have swung open (discard any that have not), transfer them to bowls with a slotted spoon. Turn the heat all the way up, and boil the cooking broth for 1 minute, then ladle this over the mussels. Garnish with tarragon, serve with the fries, and eat immediately.

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