Moulles Marineres à la Neptune
(Neptune's Mussels)

Contributed by Klaus Ruetzler, Research Zoologist (Sponges) and Director of the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program (Belize) at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum.

4 as an appetizer

1 onion, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon to sauté and 3 to finish the sauce
1 head garlic, finely chopped
1 handful parsley, chopped
1 1/2 cups French Chablis (or Chardonnay)
4 or 5 springs of fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems
1 bay leaf
4 pounds (about 4 dozen) mussels, beards removed, and rinsed (discard those that are broken or do not close their shells)
Paprika, sweet
Paprika, hot or red pepper flakes - optional
French baguette or Italian bread

In a large pot, sauté onion in 1 tablespoon butter until translucent. Add garlic and parsley, sauté a little more but do not brown. Add Chablis, thyme, bay leaf and boil briefly. Turn the burner to high, add mussels and cover; steam for 5 minutes or so, until all mussels are open (check, do not overcook).

Let cool briefly until you can handle the mussels, discard one shell from each of the mussels, and place the one with the meat in a serving dish (a Spanish ceramic bowl works well). Drain the liquid from the pot through a sieve and reserve. Reheat the vegetables with the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter, add a generous amount of sweet paprika (add some hot paprika or red pepper if you like) and let it dissolve. Recombine vegetables, butter, paprika mixture with the liquid, stir, and pour over the mussels in the serving dish. Enjoy with fresh French baguette or Italian bread.

I recreated this dish from the moulles marineres served at the Neptune, my favorite seafood restaurant in the 1970s. The Neptune was (maybe still is?) located on the way from Tunis to Cartage, on a beach facing the beautiful Mediterranean. Collaborating with the Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries of Tunisia, I spent several months over a three-year period in this country studying the biology and ecology of commercial (bath) sponges.