a French seaside menu: mussels, fries, and a side dish of salad with a miso vinaigrette

Do you have a favorite vacation spot, dear neighbors? Thirteen years ago my husband and I fell in love with a place in Brittany called « la baie de Morlaix ». We come here as often as we can. It’s a long drive from where we live, well over eight hours, but it is worth every mile spent on the road. It all started because my husband, who from his birth up until the day we got married had never lived more than half an hour away from the ocean, was missing the sea breeze too much. I, being born smack in the center of France, never thought I would also become an addict ! I have even learned to pay attention to tides and to go fishing. Don’t misunderstand me, dear neighbors. We don’t have a boat (mt husband can’t even swim!!!) and what I mean by fishing is really digging in the sand for cockles and clams (a note to Rhode Islanders : being French, these are a much smaller kind than your local quahogs 😄). In Brittany, you can also find wild mussels latching onto rocks, and for us this is invaluable. We were told that sulfites are sometimes added to make the special ice chips on which seafood is kept in markets, so I can never buy shells and feel safe, especially in the center of France…

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Below a certain size (4 cm) the mussels must be left on their rocks, and the clams returned to their home in the sand. 

A typical seaside menu when vacationing in France being « salade moules frites », in other words mussels and fries with a side dish of lettuce, I set forth to create my own. The fresh mussels I just cooked in a pot over high heat, letting them open. Thank God they don’t scream. No need for salt, but sometimes I add a touch of curry.

My fries (or rather « chips » for my dear neighbours) are not fried ! I stopped frying potatoes long ago, both for health reasons and because I can’t stand the smell of fried food in my home. I drizzle the potato chips in olive oil, spread them on a lined baking sheet and bake them at 210°C / 410°F (or 190°C / 375°F fan-forced). You need to make sure they don’t overlap so they will all get crispy. After about 45 to 50 minutes, you stir them so they get brown on all sides ; baking doesn’t take much longer from that point on, so keep an eye on them. Again, we only add salt on our plates if we deem it necessary.

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The potatoes after 45 minutes

As for the salad, while the potatoes were in the oven, I added some radish slices to my lettuce and made a Japanese style dressing, using white miso paste (milder and sweeter than dark miso), rice vinegar and roasted sesame oil, which we love. I also sprinkled the salad with some « paillettes d’algues », or roasted seaweed flakes. If you have never had dried or roasted seaweed, it tastes « sea-salty », and if you have more than the size of a flake in your mouth, you might be turned off because you will want to chew on it, and when it gets wet you will really get a slimy taste of the sea ! If you can only buy the dried chips kind, I advise you to crumble them into flakes before sprinkling them onto your salad.

All you need is a sailor’s song now and you will totally feel like you are with me. Here is an old one; please allow me to be a tease today, dear neighbo(u)rs… Here are the words of the chorus in French :

Buvons un coup, buvons-en deux,

À la santé des amoureux,

À la santé du roi de France,

Et m***e pour le roi d’Angleterre,

Qui nous a déclaré la guerre !

And its translation :

Let us drink one glass, two glasses

To lovers’ health,

To the French king’s health,

And s**t to the English king

Who declared war on us !

Of course this is all water under the bridge! The song actually refers to a battle at sea won by the French corsaire Surcouf in 1800. Note that no song was ever written in France after the battle of Trafalgar!!!

Ingredients for the salad dressing :

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– 1 tsp white miso paste

– 1 TBSP rice vinegar

1 TBSP roasted sesame oil

How to:

Mix miso paste and vinegar before adding the oil. Only add salt if necessary after tasting… 

Have a great day, dear neighbors!

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