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On Mussels (Moules/Mosselen)

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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    Posted: 22 February 2018 at 09:54
In a recent conversation with a friend on social media who lives in The Low Countries, I was given some very good information and advice regarding these iconic mollusks; I will relate it here, so that others can benefit from some very good wisdom.

Because I am piecing it together from a couple of different conversations, there may be some over-lap; however, to me; repetition is often a good tool by which to underscore key, fundamental points, so here it is:

Quote Belgians are mega-consumers of mussels. One of their national dishes is of course Moules Frites (note from Ron - here's a link):

http://foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/moules-frites-mosselen-met-friet_topic2074.html

Many think it’s a French dish but it isn’t. Wild mussels gathered a bit of a reputation, many years ago, when acid rain and heavy metals and other ozone layers were immensely popular. In fact, we never ate wild mussels at all since we buy nearly all our mussels from a small province in Holland, called Zeeland, a region adjacent to Belgium.

It has to be said that the Dutch know one or two things about farming, not only growing tulips and “indoor” tomatoes and what not, but very much also in the farming of mussels, around 50 million kilos per year! The Dutch themselves consume not more than 10 million kilos, so Belgians eat most of them, and the French eat the rest! Then there’s the French “bouchot” mussels, très chique but quite small. On the other hand, they are fully packed shells and very tasty.

I should also add that many mussels from Zeeland are relocated very young, using Irish, Danish or other imported tiny mussel seed as they call them to be grown in Zeeland’s waters. Belgians have a saying about the Dutch: if you’re not fooled by a “Hollander”, it’s because he forgot....

Cooking mussels on the other hand is something that Belgians know something about. Most popular is simply using onion, celery and parsley, finely chopped and not sweated but added raw to the pot together with the mussels. The pot is filled to a maximum of 2/3 full, adding also pepper and very little salt. Put it on a very high fire, with the lid on, without adding any fluid at all (except when you make a white wine version). Boil until the mussels start to release their juice and bubbles reach the top of the mussels, around 3-5 minutes. Shake the pot, with the lid on, to move the mussels so all of them are equally heated. Put the pot back on the heat until the juice starts to boil again in another 3-5 minutes. Done, no more heating. I love my mussels still a little undercooked, but many people do this boiling/shaking procedure 3 times.

Making a base for mussels:

When making a base for mussels to use with a variety of dishes, you can use - more or less - a method similar to making a fish soup. In short, fish soup would normally be started by sweating aromatics, adding stock and any special ingredients, and then adding fish at the end. Done.

With mussels, there is no need to use stock, because the mussels produce a lot of delicious juice, which would replace the stock; so the procedure is a bit different, but along the same lines.

For a base with mussels, use chopped onion, shallot, garlic, celery, and fennel - all on low fire - and sweat them just until the aromas came free. Then, add any spices you would like to use, depending on what you are making. Let all of this fry a while longer, then add some dry white wine and let evaporate.

Normally, this is where the stock comes in when making soup; but as I said earlier, no stock is added because it will come later from the mussels while cooking. So that’s the base in which the mussels will cook. It should be quite thick but the mussel juice will bring it to normal.

Now, in with the mussels. Bring your fire to quite high (but don’t burn any ingredients in the base); with the lid on, bring to a boil and cook for no longer than 5 minutes. Toss the mussels, still lid on (use a kitchen towel!), by shaking the pot in a such a movement to arrange the mussels from down in the pot to get to the top of the pot and vice versa. Then back on the fire for two/three minutes. Fire out. Add fresh herbs if desired and serve.


Some other fundamentals:

Most mussels sold in Belgium and elsewhere are packed "ready for use." However, it is not a bad idea to rinse them, leave them in cold, slightly-salted water and check for broken shells or mussels that don't close. Discard broken ones and the ones that don't close when you tap on them.

What not to add to mussels: carrots and leeks; both add a sweet component that will kill the mineral taste of the mussels.

There is a tendency, especially with wild-harvested mussels, for them to not open all at once; and they're easy to overcook, so it might be good to monitor them. As soon as one opens, take it out of the pot. Once all are open, return them to the pot and cook for a moment or three, just to heat them through.

Here is a plate of mussels that I recently made in a Mediterranean style, with a bit of the Maghreb. Along with many of the usual ingredients, I used shallot, garlic, celery, fennel and tomatoes; I then added a small teaspoon of harissa paste, ginger powder and Colombo curry powder in the base. Also, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, and the same amount of coriander seeds, crushed finely in the mortar with salt. for a final touch to the base, I added some dry white wine and let evaporate.

I cooked the mussels as described above, then added chopped cilantro, which is fresh coriander as you know. Done!

I served the mussels with a dill and preserved lemon couscous: All you need is one cup couscous per person, along with one cup plus a bit more of salted water and a small chunk of butter per person. Bring water to a boil, add butter, fire out. Gently sprinkle couscous in plus a more than generous hand of dried dill. Add finely chopped preserved lemon (peel only). Let the couscous absorb the water, loosen with a fork.

Bon appétit!

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gunhaus View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gunhaus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 February 2018 at 07:28
Good info Ron - If you like mussels, you can also try a method I have used for almost 40 years

Take about 1 to 1-1/2 cup of decent white wine. Too that add one small shallot finely minced, one clove garlic finally minced. A couple tablespoons of fine chopped sun dried tomato, a couple table spoons chopped fresh parsley, juice of half a lemon, and a smallish amount of zest - just a few scrapes will do. And some fresh course ground pepper to taste (My some adds a few red pepper flakes as well - your choice)

Put this together and let is sit, while you take the largest cast iron skillet you have and get it hot. I use a 12" most of the time. 

The amount of mussels you use will depend on you pan - i want enough to almost fill the skillet, but not bulging full - if you follow. 

You will need a fairly tight fitting lid as well

NOW- When I say make the skillet hot - I mean HOT, a lot of folks prefer to do this dish out doors. You want the skillet, screaming, smoking, whitish hot (Think heat it till it melts then turn it back 1/4 hot!)

When the skillet is at thermonuclear - dump in the mussels, pour the assembled liquid in. Do this AS FAST as you can, two sets of hand are not a bad idea. Be careful things will steam and sputter. As quickly as you can get the liquid in slam the lid home. Keep the heat on, and let the whole do its magic for 3-5 minutes. MAX

At that point when you kill the heat and pull the lid, the mussels should be popped open, each and every one will magically have bits and pieces of the whole assembly within. A lot of pot licker will be in and about the tender morsels. 

Divide - devour - wine - bread - etc! 

I have no idea where i learned this - but we have called it Cousin Mary's Mussels as long as i can remember. I have no Cousin Mary, but God Bless her; she is responsible for some memorable noshing! 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 February 2018 at 08:38
That does sound pretty good - I wouldn't mind trying that, at all!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 February 2018 at 04:52
Tas,

An exemplary post ..

We are grand fans of Galician Mussels and Marseille Mediterranean mussels ( wild and fresh ). 

We steam our´s in White wine with salt wáter from the Mediterranean and prepare almost the same way as in the recipe ..

Absolutely amazingly wonderful ..    

 
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