In this blog, a trip to Dinard in Brittany and a delicious recipe for Mussel soup.
A short break to France is welcome at any time of year and November is no exception as there is much to do and see in many regions. We had a refreshing break in Brittany recently which was very much needed and I would say has revitalised me completely. Yes, just a short break in France is enough to charge my batteries for a while. The coastal scenery in Brittany along with the heritage of castles, churches and historic towns and villages is what makes it such a wonderful place to visit. Along with the splendid sea food it is perfect heaven for me.
We stayed near Dinard which is a former fishing village in the north east coast of Brittany. It is so pretty there and is a great place for a holiday. It has a mild climate and it is said by many to be very much like the Côte d’Azur. In fact it is often called the ‘Nice of the North’ as it is compared to the beautiful city of Nice in the South of France.
We were very happy spending our time simply strolling around and taking in the ambience. This is my idea of a relaxing break. Doing what you want when you want and not having any restrictions. I did miss our little Jack Russell though and he is the reason for the break being short!
Dinard has several beaches, Plage de L’Ecluse being the most famous. It is ideal for family holidays as the kids will love the beaches and there are some lovely walks along the bays which we enjoy, taking in the sea air and brushing off the cob-webs.
I love the markets wherever we go in France and Dinard is no exception as they have a market each Thursday and Sunday which are popular with tourists as well as the local people. They have such a wealth of fresh foods and specialities and if you are self catering you will have good food for your family for the week.
Some of the specialities of Brittany are of course are crepes or little pancakes which you will find everywhere. They are delicious with either sweet or savoury fillings so the choice is yours to enjoy.
Brittany is also famous for its fresh fish and shell fish and is France’s most productive fishing region. One of my favourite shell fish are mussels and from October to March they are at their best. They are often cooked in traditional ways in Brittany, usually in wine or cream and they may be cooked in cider too.
We had a trip over to St Mont Michel’s bay where they are famous for their mussels. When the tide goes out in the bay you can see the ‘stakes’ as far as the eyes can see where they grow the mussels. These are called bouchots and there are over thirty two thousand of them – so I was told.
They are extremely high quality mussels and they are very proud of the fact that this year they were awarded protected origin status by the EU and so supporting producers and protecting the reputations of their local foods.
They were awarded an Appellation d'origine Controlee (AOC) in 2006. The AOC is usually bestowed upon a food, usually a wine or a cheese, however, the St Michel Bay mussels are the first seafood to be awarded the French “appellation” label. This award only applies to the mussels from St Michel’s Bay.
Mussels are a very healthy sea food, slightly salty in flavour and full of iron and calcium. They also contain vitamin b12 and omega3 fish oils which we hear a great deal about these days as they are so good for us.
I can remember my grandmother telling us to eat our fish as it was good for our brains! It seems she was quite right as now it has been researched and they say that the omega 3 fish oils are so good for the health of our brains as well as our teeth and bones etc. Research now indicates that they help with mood levels so if you suffer from depression eating oily fish may well help with this. They say we are not getting enough of the omega3 fish oils nowadays as we once did.
Apart from the research, I just love sea food so have no problem when it comes to any recipes with the fruits of the sea. Many people are afraid to cook mussels and are not sure if they are going to end up with food poisoning. Well, this is very rare and if you only buy them in the winter months, or from October to March you should be ok.
You will need to buy about 1 pint of mussels for each person for a first course which may seem a lot but when shelled the mussels are very small. When you buy them, make sure they are tightly closed. Any that are open do not buy. If you do find any are open when you get them home – throw them away.
Wash them well in a bowl full of cold water. If any of them float to the top throw them away. Rinse several times, scrape of any bits of barnacles and trim off the little hairy beards. Leave them in a bowl of clean water until you are ready to cook them. After cooking it is important to throw away those that have not opened.
If you do manage to get away to France this month I hope you enjoy your stay and get to eat some of these wonderful shell fish. I have an easy recipe for cooking mussels which should please all the family and it makes a great starter if you are entertaining. If you are still worried about cooking mussels you can cheat and buy ready cooked mussels in many good supermarkets. Either way you will have a lovely warming winter soup.
Serves 4 for a starter
- 3 pints (about 7 cups) small mussels
- 2oz, (4 level tablespoons) butter
- 4oz, (115gm) onions chopped finely
- 8oz, (230gm) ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped
- 8 tablespoons dry white wine
- Black pepper
- Parsley, chopped for garnish.
- Clean the mussels well by scrubbing and scraping them in several changes of cold water. (Throw away any that do not shut tightly!)
- Fry the chopped onion in a heavy bottomed pan, in the melted butter, until soft and golden.
- Pour the wine into the onions
- Add the chopped tomatoes
- Boil for one minute
- Add the mussels, cover the pan and cook quickly for about five minutes, shaking the pan until the mussels open
- Remove the shells as they open
- Place the mussels in a serving bowl immediately with the liquid strained over them.
- Season with freshly ground black pepper and garnish with chopped parsley.
This is a fabulous soup with a wonderful flavour of the sea. It is delicious served with crusty French bread spread with creamy French butter.