By Jacob TriebwasserSpecial to the Chronicle
Stumped when it comes to preparing Valentine’s Day dinner for your significant other? Consider the following classic French recipe, Moules Mariniere, or Mussels Mariniere. This dish is simple, comforting, and full of flavor. Plus, with how much fun these are to eat, it’s easy to find an excuse to cozy up to your Valentine and feed each other. If that is your plan, though, I would suggest straining out the broth at the end. Rustic-cut vegetables, while tasty, will not do much for the mood. Have a happy, heartwarming, and tasty Valentine’s Day. Next you’ll have to clean the mussels. This is accomplished by briefly scrubbing them under cold water, then pulling the fibrous material (called a beard) out of the side of their shell. This is the most difficult part of this recipe, and it does seem daunting when you try it for the first time, but it’s over before you know it. An important thing to do around this time is check the mussels to make sure they’re okay to eat. If any chunks are missing from their shell, toss that mussel. To be extra safe, make sure to tap each mussel on a hard surface. If it closes, or tightens up, it’s perfect. Otherwise, the safe bet is to toss it. I’ve found that there are usually only one or two bad mussels per three-pound bag, so give them the benefit of the doubt. Your next step is to put your pot on the stove on medium heat with a splash of olive oil in it. When the oil is nice and hot (it will look as if it is slightly shimmering), toss in your celery and keep it moving around the pot with your spoon so it doesn’t burn. Once the celery has softened slightly, add in your shallots and garlic and stir until it’s very fragrant. Then toss in your cleaned mussels, add a good pinch of salt and pepper to your taste (less is more, and you can adjust at the end), and pour over your white wine. Place the butter on top of the mussels and do not stir. I repeat, do not stir the butter in. Place the lid over it all and let it steam until the butter has melted and the mussels are open, which will be around the same time if your butter is all in one piece. As soon as you put the lid on your mussels, cut some thick slices of bread, drizzle them with olive oil, and place into your preheated oven until golden brown. These are for dipping in the broth, and you will be thankful for them, I promise. When both parts are ready, arrange the toast on a plate and serve with a small bowl of mussels and broth. Try not to have leftover mussels, but the leftover broth makes a great soup base the next day. I hope you enjoy.