Églade (or éclade): mussels simply cooked by the heat of flaming pine needles

Églade makes me glad
Églade is a specialty from an area on the French Atlantic coast, encompassing the Island of Oléron and the North of the Gironde estuary (Royan) or, to make it simple from the USA, between Bordeaux et La Rochelle. The etymology of the word is aiguille (needles) obviously referring to the pine needles used to cook this dish really unique. Aiguillade became églade and also éclade. If the latter term might be now the most common one as this dish has become very popular in the upper class island of Ré, in the North of Oléron, the first one I had more than 50 years ago in Oléron was an églade. So, I stick to this word… plus it rhymes with glad!
Oléron is this island where, since the age of 10, I have spent most of my summer vacations, sailing, windsurfing, fishing all types of shellfish...
As a matter of fact, this island is famous for its oysters (the Fines de Claire, referring to the way they are "improved" in former salt marsh pools, are considered as the best oysters in France) and its mussels (the Bouchots named from the stakes on which those bivalvia are growing). This island there are also plenty of other fish and seafood, sardines, céteaux (a variety of small sole, delicious), shrimps (the bouquet a small pink shrimp with a fabulous taste), langoustines (I think the US name is Norvegian lobster), palourdes (a type of clams with a very delicate taste), praires (another type of clams with a very addictive iodine taste), langoustes (a lobster with no claws, or very small ones in fact, twice as good as the lobster... and twice as expensive too!), etc. As a kid, I loved foraging those sea treasures, the wild mussels for the églade, the wild oysters (and since 50% were broken on the spot due to the use of a screwdriver and hammer, they were eaten the same way), fishing with a wide net the grey shrimps on the sand ans with a small round net (named épuisette) and the smart bouquets, digging the mud with a table spoon where there were two little rounds to extract the palourdes and the praires, fishing the étrilles (a crab of a similar species as the soft shell crab) fished from a dam with a net dropped in the water (named balance), the éperlans (smelts). Nice memories indeed and some kind of heaven on earth…
Show me your mussels
Making an églade is the simplest dish in the world, and probably the best way ever to prepare mussels. The only difficulty is to find the right pine needles. Then you just need a natural wood board, of a minimum thickness of 1”, on which you will dispose the mussels following a star-shaped pattern. Cover the mussels with a thick layer of dry pine needles and ignite the needles. The heat created by the flaming needles will be just the right amount to open the mussels. It's simply delicious, as the mussels are just cooked perfectly and flavored with the pine sap flavors.

Levels of difficulty
The only difficulty is in fact to find good pine needles
15 minutes

5 minutes

Ingredients and material –  

1.     A safe place
Last but not least, of course, it should be done outside in a safe and open place (gravel or grass)
2.     The board:
§ A (not painted, not varnished, not treated of course) 1+ inch thick wood board, large enough to accommodate a sufficient quantity of mussels.
§     A little trick is to put 4 to 6 nails in the middle of the board. Those will help to hold the first mussels of your star pattern.
§  Some people soak the board in water to avoid that it takes on fire.
3.     Mussels:
§     Count 1/1.5 lb. per head for a main course and 0.5 lb. for an aperitif/starter.
§  Use big mussels (outside and inside). In the USA, I particularly like the wild black mussels from Maine (Moosabec)
§  The mussels should be rinsed and roughly cleaned, but unlike traditionally cooked mussel dishes, you can be lazy on that, the flames will do the job!
4.     Pine needles
§  Don’t choose any pine needles. Choose the long and thin ones, the best ones being those from the pine trees growing by the seaside in a sunny climate, ensuring that the needles are dry and flavorful: stone pines (also named umbrella or parasol pines, and incidentally those giving the pine nuts) or maritime pines.
§  Don’t use those from cedars or the likes. First, they are not adapted for the églade, but must importantly, they are not adapted for cooking as they are said to be toxic.
§  Plan a sufficient quantity to cover your board with an 8/10" layer, and some more in the possible case where you have to further cook the mussels not opened after the first “flambée”.
5.     A lighter!
To ignite the needles, of course, not to smoke a cigarette…
6.     Bellows
They will be very useful to blow on the fire to ensure that all the needles burn, and to blow out the ashes at the end.


1.     In fact, the trickiest part is the very start, i.e. laying out the mussels on the board. The mussels should not lay flat, but “on the edge”. In this respect, there are 2 schools (yes, indeed!). Either you lay them on the “hinge” edge so that they open “up” (meaning facing the sky) and the juice remains in the shell, or you lay them on the opening edge so that they open “down” (facing the board), which protects the mussel from the ashes. Let’s say that in the US, I use the “clean” way… and the “juicy” way in France!

2.     Position the needles, intricating them in order to form a star pattern (see picture). Keeping the first ones standing up on edge (either the “clean” or the “juicy” one) might be a bit tricky as they will keep on falling. This is where the 4-6 nails knocked in the board can prove very useful. Otherwise, you can take a few needles and dispose them in a star-shape to help holding those first mussels. Once the first ones are positioned, it becomes easier to dispose the other ones.

3.     Then, cover the mussels with a layer of needles, of around 8/10 inches thick, ignite them… and enjoy the beautiful flame if you do it at night, and soon you will hear the mussels “singing” as they open. Let the fire extinguish by itself, but use the bellows if some blocks of needles are not totally burned. It only lasts a couple of minutes. It is possible that you will need a second flambée in case if some mussels, positioned outside and less exposed to the fire, didn’t not open.

4.     Then, blow away the ashes and possible twigs mixed with the needles, using the bellows (better) or a piece of cardboard, a bellows or even a bike/mattress pump.

5.     They are now ready to eat, either directly around the board, or or on the table. As it is a “dirty” dish, I like to serve it with another dirty dish such as fingerling potatoes BBQ’d with their skin. Accompanied with a bottle of Muscadet or a Pineau des Charentes, the local Cognac fortified wine… and a roll of paper towel! As I said somewhere else, it is deliciously decadent