An Irish Chef in France

Martin and Sile Dwyer’s Chambre d’Hôte in the Languedoc has been closed by Covid for months on end and is likely to remain closed for the 2021 season. But they are finding lockdown less difficult as the spring comes in - and, as ever in the Dwyer household, tasty food is their main highlight (along with the daily walk). 

Myrtle Allen had a wonderful habit of falling on her feet and making the very best of local produce by doing the right thing almost by accident. In her “Ballymaloe Cookbook” she tells the story of Stuffed Mussels.

She hadn’t been long at Ballymaloe, where her husband Ivan was farming, when he told her he was bringing some French clients home to supper. Far from being phased Myrtle made a quick trip down to the nearby shoreline to pick some mussels, which she decided to stuff with butter and breadcrumbs.
When she produced this dish for the French men she was surprised when they called it “Moules Farcies “- this simple dish, which she thought she had put together on her own, appeared to be a French classic.

I was introduced to Mussels first as a teenager when my family brought me to a new restaurant which was causing a stir in Kinsale called “The Spinnaker”. This was run by a lady called Hedly McNiece, who had been married to the poet Louis. To my family’s surprise she was serving Mussels on the menu, mussels were not a fish that was in the Dwyer family repertoire. However I was the brave one and decided to risk them. I was an instant convert.

When I became a chef myself, many years later, I always contrived to add mussels somewhere in my menus. I discovered that the liquor that was produced by the mussels as you opened them was quite delicious also, and that dishes like “Moules Marinieres” or “Mussel Risotto” which used these juices in their composition were ideally suited to the delicate flavour of Irish Mussels.

When we moved to the Languedoc- about 12 years ago- I discovered that I was again in an area which prided itself in its mussels. We are not at all far from the Bassin de Thau, an inland sea, which has an extensive mussel farming industry.
Now these mussels are huge, much bigger than their Irish cousins, and have a more robust flavour. Basically, because of the high salinity of the Bassin- and indeed of the Mediterranean - these mussels are salty. That actually works well for the mussels, but to my Irish tastes makes the liquor almost inedible.

This brought me back to Les Moules Farcies and I discovered that the Moules de Thau were delicious stuffed. One further small refinement I discovered was that, because of the coarser quality of the average French breadcrumb ( made from baguette), I got a crispier result from the stuffing if I cooked these separately in olive oil.

Irish people will be pleased to know that I have tried this method of Moules Farcies with our more delicate Irish mussel - with delicious results.

Stuffed Mussels
(serves 6-8 as a starter, 4 as a main course)

2 kg mussels
175g butter
3 cloves garlic
Small bunch parsley
3 tbs. breadcrumbs.

Wash off the mussels and remove their beards (if they are farmed mussels they will have little or none).
Put the mussels into a large saucepan, with a cup of water.
Put the lid on and cook just until they open.
Take them out of the pot and discard the liquid (or freeze it for some mussel stock).
Remove the top shell, and lay the mussels out on a baking sheet in the half shells.
Soften the butter, chop the parsley and the garlic finely and mix together. (Or throw the whole lot into a food processor and process.)
Put the breadcrumbs into a pan and toss in a little oil on the heat until they become brown and crisp.
Cover each mussel in the half shell with the butter, sprinkle over the crisp crumbs and either put under a hot grill or in a hot oven until the butter melts and bubbles.
These are best eaten with lots of crisp bread to soak up the garlicy, mussely butter - and I must confess to loving the Belgian notion of eating them with hot chips.

Martin Dwyer started cooking professionally over 40 years ago in the legendary “Snaffles Restaurant” in Dublin. After a time in a Relais Chateau in Anjou and in “The Wife of Bath” in Kent, he opened his own acclaimed restaurant, “Dwyers”, in Waterford in 1989. In 2004 he sold this and moved south to France where he and his wife Síle bought and restored an old presbytery in a village in the Languedoc. They now run Le Presbytère as a French style Chambre d’Hôte. Martin however is far too passionate about food to give up cooking so they now enjoy serving dinner to their customers on the terrace of Le Presbytère on warm summer evenings. Martin runs occasional cookery courses in Le Presbytère and Síle’s brother Colm does week long Nature Strolls discovering the Flora and Fauna of the Languedoc.
Le Presbytère can be seen at:;


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