Sunday, July 28, 2013

Show us your Mussels!

This week I managed to get my hands on some beautiful fresh "blue" mussels and was all set to cook them as I always do -  in a basic Nepolitana sauce with a little chilli, and a side serve of crusty bread - when I was reminded of the delicious Belgian style mussels that you find in many a Belgian Beer Café. Cooked simply in wine or cider, and served with frites (chips) and mayonnaise, they are delicious - and a change from the way I tend to cook my mussels.

My husband Andrew (aka Mr Smith) spent part of his childhood living in Belgium and was keen for me to recreate and serve up this dish that he ate as kid. A little research and I discovered that the ingredients were very simple and I was more than willing to give it a go. I even did a batch of frites and served them with some garlic mayo on the side to make the dish even more authentic. The result was a fragrant, tasty dish that was so quick and easy to prepare. It would be an ideal fast after work meal, or great to serve guests as a no hassle entrée or main course.

As with any produce, ensure that your mussels are super fresh - they should smell like the sea and not "fishy". To prepare them, scrub off any seaweed or dirt from the outside with cold water and de-beard them if necessary (pull out any tendrils of seaweed sticking out of the mussels) I used cider for my recipe, but many versions use white wine. I just happened to have cider in the house, so that's what went in. I also saw some versions of this dish that added a little cream to the sauce, to create a richer taste - feel free to add this if you want to.

I remember eating mussels cooked in this style many times in France, where they are also served with frites (French Fries). Despite the fact that they are known by this name over much of the world, the origin of the thinly cut fried potatoes that we call French Fries is actually Flemish, originating from Belgium. The earliest written account of people eating potatoes cooked in this style comes from the Meuese Valley, Belgium in 1680. They were eaten by fishermen and their families along with whole fried fish. So I guess you could say that fish and chips originated in Belgium too! Regardless of where they come from, they taste good and are the perfect accompaniment for a bowl of mussels.

This dish would be an ideal one to try if you are a bit unsure about cooking seafood, because it is very easy to do. The only thing you need to be aware of is to avoid overcooking the mussels. Once the shells have popped open, they are done and you are good to go. Mussels are a good choice if you aim to eat seafood in a sustainable way, and have the added bonus of being cheap and great for you.

Belgian Style Mussels
with Frites and Mayonnaise

You will need:
1-2kg fresh, cleaned mussels, 1 cup cider (I used a pear based cider, but apple is good too),1 white or brown onion finely chopped, 2 cloves garlic finely chopped, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon salted butter, salt & pepper.

Note: 1kg of mussels will serve two people as a main course or four people as an entrée.

Method: Heat the olive oil to a medium heat and cook the onion and garlic until soft and translucent.

Add the cider, a few pinches of salt and half of the parsley. Simmer for 5 minutes or so.

Add the butter and stir until well combined. Add the mussels and stir them so that they are all covered in the sauce.

Put the lid on the pot and allow the mussels to steam for 5 - 8 minutes, stirring gently now and then. The mussels are cooked when the shells open.

As soon as the shells are open, remove the pot from the heat (avoid overcooking, or your mussels will be tough). Season with some salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Discard any mussels that do not open.

Serve in bowls with some of the sauce/pan juices spooned over the top. Sprinkle the rest of the parsley over the mussels and serve right away with crusty bread, or frites and mayonnaise.



  1. I love a good mussel recipe thank you! Been really busy managing a a Chinese Restaurant in Capalaba area and I find it hard to whip something up in the home but this looks fairly easy to prepare and I would love to try this one out, on the weekend maybe! Thanks :)

  2. I love mussels too as does my Italian family. I've just posted on my blog 'The Good the Bad and the Italian' a story about foraging for mussels in Sydney in the 1960s.