Classic Belgian Moules Mariniere
- Mussels with fries or Moules frites are a characteristic Belgian dish. You get a big bowl (just about always a large pot) of steamed mussels, broth, and a side of frites.
There are many ways to serve the mussels, but the most classic is Moules Mariniere the mussels are offered in a sauce of white wine, shallots, parsley, and butter. You can in addition find mussels served with sauces made with beer, or cream, or vegetable stock.
For the greatest authenticity, use a shell to crack open the mussels, not your fork.
Mussels are at their best in cold weather, so their season is usually from October to March. When you see them in a fishmonger’s, a sign of freshness is that most of them are tightly closed: if there are a lot of open mussels don’t bother. When buying mussels you need to allow at least 1 pint (570 ml) per person for a first course, and 1½-2 pints (about 1 litre) for a main course. That may seem a lot, but some will have to be discarded and, once they have been shelled, mussels are very small and light.
The ritual of cleaning and preparing them sounds more bother than it actually is. When you get them home, plonk the mussels straightaway into a sinkful of cold water.
First of all throw out any that float to the top, then leave the cold tap running over them while you take a small knife and scrape off all the barnacles and pull off the little hairy beards.
Discard any mussels that are broken, and any that are open and refuse to close tight when given a sharp tap with a knife.
After you’ve cleaned each one, place it straight in another bowl of clean water. When they’re all in, swirl them around in three or four more changes of cold water to get rid of any lingering bits of grit or sand.
Leave the cleaned mussels in cold water until you’re ready to cook them. As an extra safety precaution, always check mussels again after cooking this time discarding any whose shells haven’t opened.