Originally written as part of the World Cup 2014 cooking project.
On paper Belgium possesses one of the most star studded teams of this World Cup, and I guess would be most neutral supporters’ dark horse to lift the coveted trophy. Its history in World Cups is impressive with a best finish of fourth in Mexico in 1986. I have some great memories of Belgian players at the top of their game, especially during the 80s and 90s. I always loved to watch playmaker Enzo Scifo and it was he that won the best young player award at the 1986 tournament; and that title has some illustrious previous winners such as little unknowns at the time named Pele and Beckenbauer. It was also during this period that Belgium also had two of the world’s greatest goalkeepers in Jean-Marie Pfaff and a few years later Michel Preud’homme. I am always of the ilk that having a strong keeper at the back filters a great energy right through the team and it is no coincidence that Belgium was a powerhouse during their reign.
For me it’s great to see an emergent Belgian side again, especially after a few darks years post the 1990s. Belgium has started the tournament well, albeit not set it alight. The last game it scraped a win against Korea Republic, however, it was missing its influential captain Vincent Kompany and fellow Premier League star Thomas Vermaelen, both who are expected to return for the last 16 when Belgium take on the USA.
Being surrounded by the Netherlands, Germany and France you can see a lot of these countries’ influence in Belgium’s cuisine. However, as I sink a bottle of Leffe Radieuse I am reminded of the immense diversity and quality, and indeed potency, of Belgian beer. Stella Artois may have the global market share but this beer is piffle when compared to the enormity of some Belgian brews; Leffe, Duvel, Chimay and Achel just to name some famous ones. In fact one of my favourite dishes of all time is the carbonade flamande, a traditional Belgian sweet and sour beef and onion stew made with a nice dark strong Belgian beer.
The dish I have cooked however is purported to be the national dish of Belgium and for me food doesn’t get much better than it; moules frites (mussels and fries). Sumptuously plump mussels in a vegetable, calvados and crème fraiche sauce served with home-made fries coated in sweet paprika and sea salt, and a side of Dijon mustard based mayonnaise.
P.s. it wouldn’t be a proper Belgian post without mentioning Belgian chocolate, surely the best in the world, and Belgian waffles with sweet syrup and lashings of whipped cream.
Moules Frites - BelgiumPrint
- For the Mussels:
- ■ 1 kg mussels | Beards removed and outside of shells cleaned.
- ■ 2 tbsp. olive oil |
- ■ 3 spring onions | Thinly sliced - white and green parts.
- ■ ½ white onion | Thinly sliced.
- ■ ½ fennel bulb | Outer layer removed and then thinly sliced.
- ■ 1 large garlic clove | Peeled, halved lengthways and thinly sliced.
- ■ 1 medium carrot | Peeled, halved lengthways and thinly sliced.
- ■ 5 sprigs thyme | Leaves picked.
- ■ 150ml white wine | A Muscadet is traditional – I used a fruity chardonnay that worked well.
- ■ 1 tbsp. calvados | Pernod is traditional but I like the little apple brandy kick.
- ■ 2 tbsp. crème fraiche |
- ■ handful flat leaf parsley | Roughly torn.
- ■ seasoning of salt and black pepper | Salt may not be required as the mussel liquor is naturally salty.
- For the Fries:
- ■ 2 large potatoes | Peeled. I used Sebago here in Australia, but King Edwards or Maris Piper are brilliant.
- ■ 1 litre grapeseed oil | For frying - any other suitable oil can be used.
- ■ 2 tsp. sea salt |
- ■ 2 tsp. sweet paprika |
- ■ a portion of mayonnaise | See below for recipe link.
Soak the mussels for an hour in cold water. This removes the intense saltiness leading to a more palatable broth and also I find mussels like to expel some sand and grit at the same time.
For the fries: cut the potatoes in to 1cm thick slices and then cut each slice in to matchsticks. Soak in cold water to remove some of the starch that can make the chip a little gluggy.
For the mussels: Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pot or casserole dish over high heat. Add the spring onions, white onion, fennel, garlic, carrot and thyme to the oil and cook and stir for 2-3 minutes until the vegetables have wilted. Now add the mussels, spread them out in an even layer and cover the pot. Cook on a high heat for about 4 minutes. Remove the lid and add the white wine and calvados. Cook for a minute uncovered until the liquid has reduced by a half. Put the lid back on the pot and cook for a further 2 minutes. Over a bowl strain the liquid reserving the mussel and vegetables, and returning the strained liquid to the pot.
Heat the frying oil to 180°C (360°F). In batches add the cut potatoes, frying until crispy and with a pale golden colour. Drain the fries on kitchen towel to remove excess oil. Grind the sea salt and paprika together and sprinkle over the fries.
To finish the mussels, reheat the broth in the pot to just below a simmer. Add the crème fraiche and torn parsley leaves and stir. Now, add the reserved mussels and vegetables and warm through. Serve with the fries and a good dollop of mayonnaise. Belgium at its best.
Recipe for mayonnaise is here