Do You Like Mussels ?

Having lived in Brussels for over thirteen years, the capital of Moules we as a family love them ! Mostly, served in a casserole, à la something or other , marinière, au vin blanc, au curry, au gousse d’ail ( garlic), à la crème and many other variations on a theme. Normally the portion is one kilo of mussels and served with, what else? Crispy French Fries!

I say the portion size is 1 kilo, which sounds a lot, but actually this is the weight with the shells, so in fact not that much meat.

When we first moved to Brussels about 40 + years ago, we discovered a small, almost hole in the wall type of restaurant with maybe 10 or 12 tables. No reservations and closed at 10 pm. The trick was to roll up and if you had to wait, you had to wait, outside, come rain or shine.( they now perhaps post Covid take reservations).

Of course they serve other foods along with Moules, but it is predominantly Moules. The very first time we ate there, was , of course after a Rugby match….. Brussels British versus ? I don’t remember. We were very hungry, so we ordered a starter of Moules, followed by steak frites, followed by Crêpe Soufflé, which had to be ordered well in advance. The waiter did indeed give us the most amazed look and then we understood! NO ONE in their right minds would order all of this, and Belgians did not do “Doggy Bags”.

We learnt very quickly and it soon became one of our favourite casual haunts. One of our favourites was the mussels cooked in white wine, cream and lots of garlic. The restaurant was manned by almost characters of real people, gnarled, wrinkled and overweight, hairnet on hair and a quick smoke outside the door and with a take it or leave it attitude. And to top it off, and gentleman of Asian origin would occasionally open a trap door in the floor, gather up the dirty Moules pans and disappear back under to wash them.

Himself has taken to cooking on a Tuesday. This is post Lockdown as it is my golf day. On Monday night he wondered what he should cook. I commented that I had 2 kilo of mussels arriving the next day. That spurred him on but not to cook the normal steamed in a pan pan with wine, garlic tomatoes etc. He scoured my books and came up with Moules en Croustade with leeks and white wine.

A quick trip to buy some sourdough bread, as the croustade is a loaf of bread, actually for two people, 2 loaves. Everything else was in the refrigerator.

According to himself the worse part of the whole meal was shucking ( does one say shucking for Moules?) the Moules, which he said took an age. However there is always a bit of a downside to Moules as they always have to be debearded before cooking.

For two generous portions

  • 2 crusty loaves
  • 4 Oz butter
  • 2 kilos of mussles
  • 75 mls dry white wine
  • 2 smallish leeks washed and finely chopped
  • 1/4 Cup crème fraiche
  • Salt and pepper to taste, beware taste well before seasoning.
  • 1tablespoon cornflour mixed together with 1 tablespoon soft butter
  • Some chives or chopped parsley to garnish
  • Cut off the top of each loaf and scoop out all of the bread inside ( keep to make some breadcrumbs)
  • Brush the inside of each loaf and lids with some melted butter and pop into a a hot oven 400C for about 5 minutes or so until they are crisp
  • Heat the wine and tip in the mussels, cover and cook for only a few moments until the shells have opened.
  • Tip into a colander and keep the cooking juices.
  • When cool enough to handle, remove the mussels from the shells.
  • Strain the cooking fluid through a mesh sieve to remove any grit that might be there.
  • Melt a knob of butter in a pan and add the leeks and cook for about 5 minutes, do not let them brown, but they do need to be soft.
  • Add the cooking liquid, boil and then simmer until it is reduced by half. Add the remaking butter, the cream and the butter/ cornflour mixture. Continue on gentle heat, stirring to avoid any lumps and the sauce thickens a little.
  • Reheat the loaves
  • Carefully add the mussels , taste, adjust seasoning and serve on the hot crisp loaves, garnish with chives and or parsley.

Absolutely delicious, forget the calories! And of course this can be easily adapted, using chicken, other seafood, or even an assortment of fish pieces, as in fish pie mix.

One thought on “Do You Like Mussels ?

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