Moules - Mussels. Moules Frites and Much More. Mussels on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman


La Moule Bleu  – The Blue mussel.
When a French menu listing is just for moules, without a second name, then it will be the la moule bleu, the blue or common mussel. Despite their French and English names these mussels always look black to me, so maybe they should be renamed the midnight blue mussel?
Salade de Moules au Safran
A salad with blue mussel-flavored with saffron.
Photograph courtesy of Zuzzuillo through
Blue mussels are the most popular farmed mussels and France eats more mussels per capita than any other country, though Spain grows more. Mussels may be served on their own; they may be added to fish soups, served with pasta, or star as part of other dishes. The most famous blue mussel dish in France is moules frites, mussels served in a wine and or herb broth in which they are cooked; they are served with French fries, chips, and mayonnaise on the side. The Belgians made this dish famous in France, through their inexpensive restaurant chains selling moules frites along with Belgium beer. Though in France locals may still order French beer or even wine!  When you do order moules frits in France, you will find the French and Belgians have slightly different take on a very similar dish.
Moules Frites et Bière Belge
Mussels and French Fries with Belgian Beer
Photograph by courtesy of Cambridge Brewing Co.
Blue mussels on French menus:
Douzaine de Moules Crues (La ) – A dozen raw mussels. These will be part of a raw seafood menu or raw bar, and they probably will be served with just a slice of fresh lemon and maybe black pepper to add to the flavor.
 Moules Farcies à la Sétoise - Mussels stuffed in the manner of Sète; Sète is the second largest French port in the Mediterranean and  France’s major Mediterranean fishing port.  In this dish, the mussels will be stuffed with tomatoes and veal and pork sausage meat all flavored with white wine and then cooked. When the mussels are ready for serving Provence’s famous garlicky mayonnaise called Aioli which will be added. Aioli is part of many Provencal dishes and stars in the festive family dish called the Grand Aioli.

Moules frites and how to order them.
Outside of fancy restaurants watch how the French eat mussels when they are served as moules frites. To begin with, knives and forks for the mussels are not required; one-half shell is used as a spoon to lever out the mussel from another half shell, and then you pop it into your mouth. A spoon is required for the broth.
Use your fingers for moules frites.
Freshness with all mussels is all important, so order moules frits in restaurants where you see many locals eating and a high turnover. Then you may be sure that the restaurant has a clientele which returns often and your order for moules frits will be fresh and the frits and mayonnaise first class.

French moules frites come with a wide variety of suffixes. These suffixes will refer to the broths, soups or wines in which the mussels are cooked.
Moules Frites a la Provencal – Moules frites in the manner of Provence.  This will be a broth of white wine, tomatoes, garlic and more.
Moules Frites Bleu d’Auvergne -  A white wine broth flavored with the popular Bleu d’Auvergne blue cheese.
Moules Dijonnaises –  Mussels in the manner of Dijon. This dish carries the flavor from around the city of Dijon, formerly so famous for its mustard; the mussels will be served in a white wine, and cream broth flavored with mustard.
There will be many more options similar to the Moules Dijonnaises above, each locality will be using a local wine or product to try and make their moules frits stand out from the crowd.

Moules à la Provençale.
Mussels in the manner of Provence.
Photograph courtesy of David Bowler.
Just as important as the mussels and the way they are cooked are the French fries. French fries originated in Belgium and there they remain a very popular street food served with fresh mayonnaise on the side. The Belgian tradition of French fries as a street food has also made its way to France.  Today most orders for moules frits in Belgium and France come with a bowl of fresh mayonnaise; if the mayonnaise is not part of the dish that you are served you may always order some. France adopted French fries, chips, as her own over 200 years ago and can justifiably claim that theirs are second to none. For the French fry in the USA, tradition had given Thomas Jefferson the honor of bringing the recipe to the USA.
Moules Marinière and or Moules Frites Marinière  – Mussels cooked in the manner of a sailor or an admiral and often served with French fries on the side. With moules marinière the broth in which the mussels are cooked will be made with white wine, herbs, and butter or cream. The chef has plenty of freedom with this dish; the herbs and the vegetables added may differ with the season though the primary ingredient, which is the white wine broth, will remain. Despite the name of the dish let’s face it; the average French sailor would not have seen this dish on a ship even one-hundred-year ago, or even today, I’ll stick with Mussels as Cooked for an  Admiral.

Other dishes with mussels on French menu:
Moules à la Crème CibouletteMussels cooked in a cream sauce flavored with spring onions.
A coastal mussel farm in France.
Photograph by courtesy of Michal Marcol through
Nearly all the mussels sold in France are farmed locally, very few are imported. Mussel farming is an important part of France’s massive aquaculture industry. After France, the largest European mussel farmers are the UK, Ireland, and Holland.
The blue mussel in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan – Clòtxina, musclo) (Dutch - gewone mossel (German – miesmuschel, pfahlmuschel), (Italian- cozza, mitilo), (Spanish -  mejillón or mejillón común).

The blue mussel in other languages:
(Chinese (Mandarin ( - 藍青口) ), (Greek mύδι  Ατλαντικο), (Hebrew-  moolim shachorim-  מולים שחורים),  (Japanese -贻贝   -), ( Korean 섭조개), (Portugues – mexilhao), (Russian -  Черна морска мида  -  midiya), (Tagalog - asul kabya). (Latin -  mytilus edulis)
Other mussels on French menus:
Blue mussels are sent to market when they are about 5 – 6 cm long but there are smaller blue mussels, naturally smaller, that never grow larger than about 3- 4 cms. In France, these little blue mussels are called moules de bouchot and are considered a treat. Some large blue mussels can grow up to 10 cm and then they may be mistaken for the Moule d'Espagne. A few larger mussels may be collected in the wild, but nearly all those served in restaurants will be locally farmed varieties.
Moules de Bouchot or Bouchons –  Small family members of the blue mussel. They are naturally smaller, and are considered tastier and more tender than the larger mussels. The word bouchot refers to the wooden pilings, in the sea, to which the mussels attach themselves, and is nothing to do with the French word for mouth, bouche. Their other name, bouchons; however, does refer to their size, a small mouthful.

Moules de Bouchot on French menus:

 Velouté de Crustacé aux Moules de Bouchot A velvety smooth shrimp and crab soup served with bouchot mussels.
One Moule de Bouchot is considered the best of them all, and so it will not be inexpensive; this small mussel is called the Mont St Michel Moule de Bouchot AOP. This mussel is grown in the sea around the island of Mont St Michel, off the coast in Normandy and Brittany.  The mussel farmers developed these mussels, insisting on quality over quantity, over a period of fifty years; finally in 2007 their Moule de Bouchots were awarded an AOC and later the AOP. These mussels are the only French farmed seafood to be awarded an AOP.  
The island of Mont St. Michel in Normadie, Normandy.
Home to the only mussel, in fact the only sea creature with an AOP, the
Moules de Bouchot de Mont St, Michel.
Photograph courtesy of @sanderdejong66
 This small, but very famous, island off the coast of Normandy is also home to some very famous lambs, the Agneau de Pré- Salé AOP.  When in the area you may enjoy the island's famous AOC mussels as the entrée, the French first course. and then enjoy, in the right season, their AOC lamb for the plat principal, the main course. Here, from such a small place come magical natural foods.  
Agneau de Pré- Salé AOC lambs in the salt marshes
of the island of Mont-Saint-Michel.
The island of Mont St. Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has quite a story of its own.  While it is still called an island, for about the last 150 years there has been causeway connection that runs for nearly 1 km.  Until that causeway was built the island's connection to the mainland was underwater at every high tide.
The waters in St Michel, where the Mont St Michel Moule de Bouchots AOP are grown, are considered responsible for their unique taste, and that AOP label guarantees them a place in the best restaurants, and in the best fish shops.
Bouchot mussels in the languages of France’s neighbors
(Catalan - bouchots motlle),(German - miesmuscheln bouch ), (Italian - cozze moule de bouchot ), (Spanish - mejillones de bouchot).
 Moule Barbue The bearded horse mussel; this is a wild mussel that grows up to 6 cm long; only seen occasionally, and then it will probably be part of a seafood restaurant’s raw bar.   The mussel's color may vary from a light yellow to a reddish-brown; on one-half of the shell, there are the short flat bristles that give it its name.

The bearded horse mussel in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan - musclo barbat), (Dutch – baardmossel), (German – bartmushel), (Italian - cozza pelosa or modiola), (Spanish - mejillón barbado). (Latin - modiolus barbatus). 
Moule d'Espagne or Moule Méditerranéenne  - The Spanish, European or Mediterranean mussel. This is a large 7 –10 cm mussel, with almost quadrangular shells colored from dark blue to dark brown and black. Mediterranean mussels are often part of cold seafood platters; but, they also star in many cooked dishes where they present many opportunities for chefs to show imaginative seafood dishes.

Photograph courtesy of Jessica Merz

Moules de Espagne on French menus:
Moules d'Espagne Farcies – Stuffed Mediterranean mussels.
Moules d'Espagne en Vinaigrette aux Poivrons – Mediterranean mussels served with sweet peppers and a vinaigrette sauce.
Moules d'Espagne Grillées à la Planxa en Persillade - Mediterranean mussels grilled on a plancha/ planxa and flavored with persillade. The spelling of plancha as planxa indicates this is a Basque recipe.  Persillade is a flavoring of parsley, garlic, herbs and vinegar or  made as a persillade vinaigrette sauce.
 Moules d'Espagne,in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - musclo del Mediterrani), (Dutch – diepwatermossel). (German – mittelmeermiesmuschel), (Italian – mitilo, peocio), (Spanish - mejillón mediterráneo or mejillón de Galicis),

Moule Verte  or Moule de Nouvelle-Zélande – The New Zealand or Green Lipped Mussel; an enormous farmed mussel.  Most are sold when they reach 10 cms, though they can grow larger. These mussels are served when cooked with other seafood, though they will mostly be seen on raw bar menus. I was told again and again that this mussel has very special qualities used in natural healing. There are hundreds of adverts for homeopathic medicines that include this mussel.
Moules Mariniere with New Zealand Green-Lipped Mussels
The New Zealand mussels in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(German - grünlippmuschel or grünschalmuschel), (Italian - cozza verde or cozza verde de Nueva Zelanda),  (Spanish - mejillón de labio verde, mejillón de Nueva Zelandia), 
The New Zealand mussel in other languages:
(Chinese (Mandarin)  -  青口, 翡翠胎具   ), (Greek - Άλλα θρεπτικά συστατικά ), (Hebrew -  moulim yarok sfatyim- מולים ירוקת-שפתיים (Russian -  Перна каналикулярных -   Perna kanalikulyarnykh),  (Latin - perna canalicula).

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Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman


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