About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, March 19, 2007
Mussels in Cider
What a great weekend for the Irish. They booted Pakistan out of the cricket World Cup and celebrated St Patrick's Day as well. Only the French rained on their parade, knocking off Scotland by enough points in their Six Nations rugby union match to snatch the crown from the very grasp of the Irish. But I think in the euphoria of the cricket result, the Irish will be either too happy or too drunk to care. Just to put that result in context for American readers it would be like Monaco knocking out the USA from a baseball tournament.

So what does my family with Irish roots do to celebrate St Patrick's Day? We cook up a feast straight from Belgium, that's what. There was no disrespect meant and we did have a little toast to the Irish or at least we mentioned them.

My daughter P had been asking for a while if I would come over and cook some Belgian food. She has become rather enamoured with all things Belgian lately since discovering Belgian style pubs and even went and bought a Belgian cookbook to facilitate matters, faxing the recipes to me last Friday. Can you guess which ones?

It might have been helpful to our cause if either one of us had remembered to bring the recipes home, but that didn't happen. No matter really, for what P wanted was a classic beer garden menu of chips, mussels, potato croquettes and mayonnaise, which I can do straight from the top of my head, though I put the kibosh on the croquettes as it seemed like a bit too much potato. In honour of the occasion, I even bought some Belgian beer, a couple of stubbies of Leffe.

Well, Belgian style chips are easy enough, they're like chips everywhere, first a blanch in some low temperature oil until they are cooked but not coloured, cooled, then a blast in high temperature oil to turn them golden and crispy. Belgian style mussels are essentially cooked with wine, but I brought along a recipe from the Roux brothers, an old Norman staple of mussels cooked with cider and cream, rich and delicious and even though it wasn't a Belgian recipe, they do speak French so it was in keeping with the spirit of the day. We probably didn't need the mayonnaise, but P was keen for it, so we whisked up a batch together.

My son A was also keen for the chips, he wanted them especially crispy and I would have to say that he did cook them a little longer than was strictly necessary, but his wish was granted, they were crispy...very crispy indeed! My other son N was there as well with his girlfriend E and much to my surprise for this avowed seafood hater, tucked into a few mussels, though he did say the more he ate, the fishier they became. I cracked the tops of the two stubbies and offered everyone a beer, but there were no takers, everyone still had things to do, so poor old dad was left to drink them up, not really a hardship, but at in excess of 8% alcohol I was feeling a little happier than expected.

Abbey beers as they are known, were originally brewed by monks in monasteries, but nowadays are mostly brewed under licence, with royalties going back to the monasteries. These beers are considered to be the aristocrats of all beers, tend to be darker with rich, creamy flavours with not as much apparent hop bitterness. My daughter P is much taken with Belgian cherry beer and it is easy to replicate at home if you have access to sour cherry syrup, which is readily available in Melbourne at least, most Polish outlets carry it as well as Russian ones. Simply pour a measure of sour cherry syrup in a glass and top up with beer of any kind. You can give any flavour to the beer you like really, raspberry is also popular. These fruit beers are very girl friendly.

P was concerned that there wasn't enough food, but with the rich nature of everything, one doesn't need a lot to be full. With plenty of fat in virtually everything, it's not everyday food, but I particularly recommend the mussels to you, maybe with crusty bread instead of chips to mop up the plentiful sauce, though to be fair the Belgian recipe we should have cooked looked nowhere near as rich. I'm sure St Patrick would have approved.

Mussels in Cider
(adapted from the Roux brothers)

1 kg mussels
3 shallots, finely chopped
80 g butter
400 ml dry apple cider
2 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
200 ml double cream
salt and fresh ground pepper
finely chopped chives

Clean and debeard the mussels. In a large pot, big enough to hold the mussels, sweat the shallots in 20 g of the butter until soft. Add 300 ml of the cider, bay leave and thyme and boil hard until reduced by a third, then add the cream, bring back to the boil, add the mussels and cover the pot, boil hard until the mussels have opened* in two or three minutes, shaking the pot occasionally. Strain the mussels and keep warm, return the liquid to the pot and boil hard to reduce until sauce like. While the juices are reducing, pull off one half of the mussel shells, discard and keep the mussels warm. When the juices have reduced enough, add the rest of the apple cider and whisk in the remaining 60 g butter, season to taste. Put the mussels in bowls, pour over some sauce and sprinkle on the chives. Hand around the rest of the sauce in a sauce boat. Eat with crusty bread.

* Conventional wisdom would have you discard any mussels that don't open as being bad, we always open and eat them. Some mussels simply won't open in death even though they are alive when cooked, let your nose be the guide. Think also of opened oysters that you consume many hours later after buying...they are all dead.


  posted at 10:07 am

At 8:01 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Moules et frites... nothing better...and when those frites are dipped in mayonnaise .... oh, my, heaven.

At 9:49 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Oh Neil that sounds like such a great weekend day of fun with family! And the cooking!
Chimay Rouge (and even Chimay Bleue) that's my beer! I just googled stubbies of Leffe and the first thing that shows up is this post!! Anyway I'll give a look for Leffe.
Gorn would have gone big for the mussels and I'd have been happiest with the moules et frites!
What a great time, Irish or not.

At 5:46 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi stephanie, chips and mayo are one of the most evil combos I know, so much flavour, so much fat!

Hi tanna, it was great fun too, cooking with family is the best. Nice to know that Google appreciates me!


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