I'm back! After more than a week of silence, I finally managed to get my act together and tell you about that single dish that's been on my mind since March. Every year, I, and several million other Belgians along with me, anxiously await the arrival of the mussels season. The official start for me and my family is the mussel fair in one of the neighboring villages, which I usually visit several times in a row with friends and family. It's very much a communal happening, maybe even somewhat of a ritual, to go there and wait for a substantial amount of time, just to get a taste of that first succulent mussel. And it was definitely worth the wait this year. Absolutely delicious... A signature Belgian dish, which again demonstrates the relative simplicity of Belgian recipes and the painstaking attention for the quality of the ingredients used. The version explained here is the "Flemish-style recipe", but mind you, there are many variants to this standard recipe: mussels with curry, mussels provençals, with white wine, with beer (one of my favorites is mussels cooked with Duvel, a blond, specialty beer). Regarding the mussels, Belgian always use the Dutch Zeelandic mussels (Zeeuwse mosselen), of which Belgium is the largest importer. I'm not sure these are available elsewhere, so you could try to use other ones, but bear in mind that the quality of the mussels is an absolute determinant of the final dish's taste. If you would like further information on Zeelandic mussels, please visit this site http://www.zeeuwsemosselen.be/ (Dutch).
What do you need?
1 large onion
1 large stalk of green celery (more if they're thinner)
1 bundle of parsley
1 laurel leave
lots of pepper and a little bit of salt
1. Wash and clean the mussels.
2. Slice the onion in rings into slices between 0.5 - 1 cm thick.
3. Slice the celery into slices about 8mm thick.
4. Coarsely chop the parsley
5. Take a pot large enough to hold one person's portion and make sure to put a little bit of water in it (enough to cover the bottom). (you could also add a light beer or white wine)
6. Put some mussels in the pot, enough to cover the bottom with one layer. Next, a layer of onion, celery and parsley. Cover that layer with another layer of mussels and keep on going until the entire cooking pot is filled up. Don't forget to put the laurel leave in one of the middle layers.
7. Finally, add salt (but be very careful; there's already enough salt water in the mussels and pepper to your own liking (I personally like a somewhat stronger peppery taste).
8. Put the mussels on a high fire and cover the pot with a lid. Cook the mussels until the water rises to the edge of the pot. Remove the lid, and add half a teaspoon of natural vinegar. Cover it back up and shake the mussels so as to spread the vinegar throughout the pot.
9. Put the pot back on the fire and cook the mussels until the water rises to the edge for the second time. Now check whether the mussels are thoroughly cooked (the shells should have opened). Normally they should be ready after the water has risen twice, but check them just to be sure as there may be some stubborn ones in the bunch.
Serve them in the casserole with either fries or buttered white bread on the side. Belgians eat the mussels with a special mussel dip sauce, made with mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, chives and sometimes light yoghurt