Steamed mussels served with a Cognac and crème fraiche sauce

La Rochelle is a beautiful city on the French West coast, between Bordeaux in the South and Nantes in the North. But while Bordeaux and Nantes are port cities located on a river (or two rivers in the case of Bordeaux) just before it becomes an estuary, La Rochelle is a city totally open on and to the sea, thanks to the natural barriers constituted by two big islands, Ré in the North and Oléron in the South, plus some small ones… Thanks to this strategic situation, La Rochelle has had a long maritime history, more or less glorious as it was one the harbors practicing the slave trade… Its old harbor, le Vieux Port controlled by two ancient chain towers, is a must-see place… in company of a dozen of oysters!

The mouclade (in fact, moucle, very close from the French moule, was the mussel name in the local dialect) is a specialty of La Rochelle, and more generally, of all this region of Charente-maritime and Charente, previously known as Aunis and Saintonge. It associates three of the major production of the area, the butter/crème fraiche of Charentes, the Bouchot mussels (bouchot is the name of the oak or chestnut wood stake on which the mussels are grown) from Ré and Oléron, and the wines and/or the brandy of… Cognac. Funny enough, it also incorporates curry, not really a local ingredient, but probably a “souvenir” from the international trading past of La Rochelle.  

Levels of difficulty
Preparation time
Cooking time
20 minutes
20 minutes
incl. ~3 minutes only for the mussels)

2 servings (entree)
4 servings (starter)


§  2 lb of mussels (here, Moosabec mussels from Maine)
§  2 shallot cloves (or 1 big one) chopped
§  2 oz butter
§  2 yolks
§  8 oz of heavy cream*
§  1/2 glass of dry white wine*
§  1 shot of Cognac**
§  1 tsp of curry***
§  1 tsp of Dijon mustard****

* Another option is to replace the crème fraîche by a Béchamel sauce, requiring  1 oz of butter, 1 oz of flour and 8 oz of milk
** You can also replace the wine and the Cognac by 1 glass of Pineau des Charentes, a local Cognac fortified wine
*** I also like to use Kari Gosse, the Britton curry (click here)
**** Optional
§    Soak the mussels in cold salted water (1 oz. of salt per 1/4 gal.) to disgorge and clean them
§  Sweat the shallot cloves with butter in a pot or dutch oven, over medium burner, till they become translucent. Add the cognac and the white wine (or the Pineau), put them to boil to evaporate the alcohol, then gently simmer for around 5 minutes
§  Meanwhile, clean and rinse abundantly the mussels and put them in the pot, lid on, and cook them on maximum heat for around 3 minutes till they open
§  Strain and reserve the cooking juice over low burner to keep it hot
§  Dispose the mussels in a serving dish after having removed the top shell, with a lid or an aluminum foil on to keep them warm
§  If you choose the crème fraîche option, mix the curry, the yolks and possibly the mustard, add the heavy cream, mixing the whole vigorously while adding the hot cooking juice. Let reduced at moderate heat for 5 minutes or till sauce takes a “coating” texture and serve immediately
§  If you choose the Béchamel option (I love both, but of course, the cream option is quicker), melt the butter in a bowl, add the flour, whisk the whole and let it cook while keeing on whisking for a couple of minutes till the "paste" obtained doesn't "stick" on the pan walls, add the milk in one shot and whisk vigorously, add the cooking juice and mix the whole. Out of the burner add the curry and the yolks, mix the whole and serve immediately
§  Pour generously this sauce on the mussels, and serve it, for instance, with steam potatoes that you will decadently mash in the remaining sauce after you have finished all the mussels…
§  Mmmouclade!

La Rochelle
Crème fraîche, Cognac, white wine and curry Mouclade
With crème fraîche, Cognac, white wine and curry...
With a béchamel sauce, Pineau des Charentes and Kari Gosse...