Steamed Mussels and Frites

Walk into any restaurant in Belgium and you'll almost certainly be confronted by lots of people tucking into huge dishes of mussels, a traditional Belgian dish for hundreds of years. The combination of handling the mussel, sipping the white wine juices and flesh makes this a perfect dish, in winter or summer, especially accompanied with chips.

Steamed Mussels and Frites

Food Facts

Where: Highly popular in Europe, particularly France and Belgium
Brews: Trappist beers, Chimay, Lambic, Westvleteren, and fruity specialities
Recommended: The bitter cherry or raspberry beer are delicious, but deadly

Mussels

Walk into any restaurant in Belgium and you’ll almost certainly be confronted by lots of people tucking into huge dishes of mussels, a traditional Belgian dish for hundreds of years. The combination of handling the mussel, sipping the white wine juices and flesh makes this a perfect dish, in winter or summer, especially accompanied with chips.

Steamed Mussels Recipe

Serves 3 to 4 people

– 3 quarts mussels in the shell (about 4 pounds)
– 3 garlic cloves, minced
– 6 shallots or green onions, chopped
– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 cup dry white wine
– 1/3 cup minced parsley
– Freshly ground black pepper
– Melted butter

Method

1. Soak the mussels for 30 minutes in salted water. Scrub the mussels well under cold running water with a stiff brush.

2. In a large soup kettle, sauté the garlic and shallots in oil until soft, stirring. Add wine, parsley, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Add the mussels, cover, and simmer gently until the shells open, about 8 minutes; discard any that do not open.

3. Spoon the mussels into soup bowls and ladle the broth over them. Add the butter, if desired, for dipping the mussels.

Frites

The Belgians claim that their fries are the best in the world. They’re deep fried in good-quality oil (usually beef) twice so they end up golden brown and bien croustillantes (crisp).

History and Origins

The Belgian love affair with potatoes is as deep as the vegetable’s roots. The Spanish brought potatoes back from Peru in the sixteenth century and Belgian farmers started growing them in 1538. The flat fertile country was well suited to the crop. It now produces almost one billion tons of potatoes per year. Belgians eat 100 kilos annually – twice as much as the average American!

Some Belgians claim to have invented the frite. In the nineteenth century, Belgians living near the River Meuse couldn’t catch their usual fish to fry because it was iced over – instead they cut up potatoes and fried them. In 1861 a Brussels entrepreneur called Frits opened a stand selling fried potatoes in Brussels and gave the creation its name.

There are lots of theories about why Belgian fries are called French. Here are three: American soldiers came across friteries in Belgium while fighting in WW1 – because the locals spoke French, the Yanks mistakenly called them French fries; Thomas Jefferson supposedly introduced a dish of ‘potatoes, fried in the French manner’ at his Virginia home, Monticello, which went down a storm; the term ‘frenching’ also refers to cutting potatoes into narrow strips. There are now 7,000 potato stands in Belgium.

More Information

Recipes 4 Us: Belgium
History and heaps of recipes for fine like Sweet Ale Soup and Carbonnade of Wild Boar.

The History of the Belgian Frites

Secret History of the French Fry
A Dutch-American’s tribute to the history and legacy of the humble thin fried spud.

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