October is mussel month in Belgium

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In Belgium, in the Netherlands, and in France, the months with “R” in them are called the mussel months, when mussels are usually consumed with French fries or bread. In Belgium, mussels are served with fresh herbs and flavorful vegetables in a stock of butter and white wine. Frites and Belgian beer sometimes are accompaniments. In the Netherlands, mussels are usually served fried in batter or breadcrumbs, particularly at take-out food outlets. However in France, the Éclade des Moules is the most popular dish with mussels and can be found along the beaches of the Bay of Biscay.

Believe me if you want to eat the best sea food in Europe, go to Brussels! There is a strip of about 30 restaurants in the well-known tourist area (at the Impasse le Fidelité), each with special seafoods such as mussels, lobster, shrimps, prawns etc. All the waiters wait outside (and speak about 10 different languages) and try to get you to come in. The food is quite cheap (19 euro’s). At the end of September when I was in Belgium I could hardly wait to enjoy a black pot of full with mussels outside on the street (they had heaters to keep the customers warm). At this time my favorite dish was the mussels in a white sauce. It was excellent. My husband though had flounder or salmon or some kind of fish with some sort of a honey-bourbon sauce and honestly, when I took a bite of it, my mouth collapsed as if I’d just swallowed an orgasm pill and I experienced true euphoria. So anyone who likes seafood or food in general must go to Brussels!

How to prepare the mussel

Mussels can be smoked, boiled, steamed, roasted, barbecued or fried in butter. As with all shellfish, except shrimp, mussels should be checked to ensure they are still alive just before they are cooked; enzymes quickly break down the meat and make them unpalatable after dying. A simple criterion is that live mussels, when in the air, will shut tightly when disturbed. Open, unresponsive mussels are dead, and must be discarded. Unusually heavy, wild caught, closed mussels may be discarded as they may contain only mud or sand. (They can be tested by slightly opening the shell halves.)

A thorough rinse in water and removal of “the beard” is suggested. Mussel shells usually open when cooked, revealing the cooked soft parts.

Recipes

Mussels “simple”

This classic recipe for French steamed mussels is bathed in white wine, butter and garlic. It’s both easy and quick, but like all such recipes, the quality of the ingredients matters a lot. Buy the best mussels and good sweet butter and use a white wine you’d drink yourself. Figure on a pound of mussels per person for a main course; This recipe serves for two.

Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 10 minutes Total Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients: 2 lb live mussels, 1 T unsalted butter, 3/4 cup white wine, 2 chopped scallions or 1 chopped shallot, 2 chopped green garlic shoots or 2 cloves chopped garlic

Preparation:

Scrub and remove the beards of the mussels. The “beard” is the fibrous hairy thing hanging from one side of the tasty bivalve. Pull it off with a side-to-side motion.

In case you are wondering, a mussel is alive if it reacts. Its shell should be closed. If it is open, sit the mussel for a bit. It may close when you are not looking.

Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a large, wide-bottomed pot with a lid; I use a Dutch oven. Saute the shallot or green onion until it is soft but not browned. Add the garlic cloves if using — if you are using green garlic, leave it out for now.

Add the white wine (you can use any decent white), and bring it to a boil. Add the mussels in one layer if possible.

Cover the pot and let the mussels steam for 3-8 minutes. After three minutes, check the mussels; many should be open. You want them all open, but some will do this faster than others.

As soon as most of the mussels are open, turn off the heat and toss in the green garlic, if using. Cover for a minute while you prepare bowls and plates.

Spoon out plenty of mussels and broth, which should be briny enough to not need any more salt. Throw out any mussels that did not open.

Serve with crusty bread, more white wine — and an extra bowl for the shells.

Mussels with garlic and white wine

Ingredients for 10 people: 4 kg mussels (approximately 10 mussels per person), 250 g soft butter, 10 cloves garlic, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon parsley, salt and pepper, lemon grass, chives 

The day before:
Stew mussels in a bit of butter with onions, celery stalks, finely chopped leeks and parsley, carrot. Then flavor with herbs: thyme, bay leaves, lemon grass, chives. Cook the mussels for 5 minutes and moisten with white wine. When the mussels are cooked remove them from the shell, place the largest shells aside.
Make the garlic butter: Mix the softened butter with the garlic pesto and parsley, season with salt. Insert a mussel in each shell and fill with this considerably savoury butter. Preparation the day itself; put the mussels in the oven for a few minutes and serve them hot with brown bread.

Mussels with garlic butter and cheese

Ingredients for 4 persons: 1 clove of garlic, 2 ts of finely chopped parsley, 75 g butter, salt and pepper, 48 fresh jumbo mussels, 2 dl of white wine, 150 g grated cheese, 1 bouillon stock

First prepare the spicy butter: peel and squeeze the garlics, add butter to it, flavor with salt. Clean mussels. Cook for five minutes in a pot filled with the white wine and the fis or other bouillon. Stir it regularly. Get rid of the shells and sieve the bouillon through a colander. Divide mussels into four plates, place some butter on the top then betsrew each plate with some grated cheese or put the bread in the oven with the grated cheese on top. When the cheese is melted place the bread on the top of the garlicy mussels.

Mussel soup with estragon and tomato

Ingredients: 2 cloves of garlic, 200g mirepoix (see on the picture above, the mixture of finelly chopped celery, carrot and leek), ½ kg mussels, 2g lemon zest, thyme, leek, carrot, 1tbs ketchup, oil, 300ml milk, ½ dl pastis, 500ml cream, saffron, shiso, 1 tomato, 1tbs or fresh estragon, 2 fresh tomatoes, onion, white wine

Stew mirepox in oil. Add fresh tomatoes. Pour over Pastis and let it simmer. Add mussels to dish and let them cook. Pour over one gulp of white wine and flambé, flavor with thyme then let it simmer for 5 minutes. Sieve the soup put aside mussels then prepare the sauce with the tomato, ketchup, cream, saffron and estragon. Serve with white onion rings, lemon confitur and decorate with some julienned carrot and fresh tomato slices.

Mussels in saffron sauce

Ingredients: 2 kgs of mussels, few saffron threads, knob of butter, bay leaf, 1 clove of garlic, 2 dl liquid of mussels, parsley, 2 dl cream, 2 stalks of celery, 1 shallot, thyme, 1 tomato, 1 onion, 1 dl white wine

Preparation

Melt a knob of butter in a pot and make the mussels in a classical way. Stewed celery and onion and add thyme and bay leaf.

Add the mussels, season well with salt and pepper, pour a little white wine and leave to cook for 5 minutes under the lid.

Keep the mussels warm under cover and take 2 dl liquid of the mussel for the sauce. Scoop the mussel liquid into a pot and add the white wine. Let the liquid to reduce by half. Add chopped shallot and garlic, and put a few strands saffron. Pour over the cream and cook until reduced by half. Serve in hot.

There are several restaurant in Belgium devoted only for mussels and it is said that some of them know 40 ways of making excellent mussel dishes. Here are some varieties from the menucard of Vital restaurant:
Mussel pot of “Bonne Femme”, meaning mussels are prepared with white wine and cream,
Mussel Provençal: vegetables such as tomato and garlic and Spanish bell pepper are essentials
Mussels in the Pot: with white wine
Mexican way: with hot cajun pepper
Mussels with Pastis, 
Mussels with White beer (tripple Westmalle),
Mussels with Mustard and Cream sauce,
Mussels with Curry and with White beer 
 
 
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