Mussels in Brussels
A recent trip to Brussels reminded me just how restorative a steaming bowl of moules can be. We had been toiling the streets for hours in the cold and rain when we chanced upon a hostelry called 'Les Brassins' on rue Keyenveld that was offering mussels as the plat du jour. Although my default order is for the classic moules marinière, cooked in a simple 'court-bouillon' of white wine and water, these were prepared in the Low Country manner, with lashings of cream and garlic, and boy were they tasty.
Our native bivalves are at their plump and juicy best right now so we should look no further for a cheap and cheerful mid-Winter pick-me-up.
Moules à la Crème:
I allow half a kilo of mussels per person and err on the side of generosity.
After resting the mussels for an hour or so in cold salted water you should discard any 'duds' that are open or broken. You then need to divest them of any beards and barnacles which is boring and time consuming but essential. n.b. Children can be conned in in to undertaking this task if you pretend it is great fun. Once cleaned they should be restored to a fresh pan of cold salted water.
In a big, heavy-bottomed, pan you then melt 50 grams of unsalted better and soften either two finely-diced shallots (or one large white onion) and four chopped cloves of garlic.
You can then add the drained mussels, and half a litre of dry, white wine put the lid on the pan and turn the heat right up.
The mussels should steam for around 4 minutes before you take them off the heat and add a cup of double cream and two handfuls of chopped parsley. Any mussels that fail to open during cooking should be discarded.
Serve piping hot in pre-warmed bowls with fresh, crusty bread.
[Two top West Country bread recommendations are the 'Sourdough' from the Rye Bakery in Frome and the 'Malted Wheat and Sunflower' from Hart's Bakery in Bristol].
In Brussels we paired our shellfish with 'Silly' beer but wine-wise I'd be drawn to this month's zesty, Picpoul de Pinet.