Tuesday, June 10, 2014

At Home: Belga Café Mussel Pots

Next on Restaurant Recreations...At Home, I tackle one of Belga Café’s most popular dishes - Mussel Pots. Lead by another Top Chef alum, Belgium native Chef Bart Vandaele, the melded rich culinary traditions of Belgium with the comfortable, relaxed attitude of Barracks Row has made this neighborhood gathering place a huge success. During last year's Barracks Row Culinary Education Crawl, Chef Thijs Clinckemaillie (who leads the kitchen at Chef Bart's newest restaurant in Logan Circle, B Too) demonstrated how to make these mussels.
Left: The original dish at Belga Café; Right: Chef Vandaele
 Mussel Pots (in 'Hoegaarden' or 'Marinier' flavors) (Serves 4)
  • 4 lbs mussels, washed and debearded
  • 2 bottles of Hoegaarden beer or ½ bottle of white wine
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • ½ celery or leek, chopped
  • ½ cup asparagus, cut in 2-inch pieces (optional)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup bacon, chopped
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

- Add butter, onion, celery/leek, asparagus, garlic, bacon to a large pot and sauté for a couple minutes, just to render the bacon fat a bit.
- Add the mussels to the pot and pour all the beer or wine over it. (You can also separate mussels evenly into four individual serving pots and divide the liquid over each.)
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Let boil and then gently shake up the pot.
- Add parsley just before serving.
- Serve with bread or Belgian fries.

Chef Thijs Clinckemaillie explained the importance of thoroughly cleaning each mussel as sand and barnacles may still be in/on the shells and you don't want that in your food! Look out for closed shells too, and throw those out as that means the mussel is dead. Key ingredients to add in the pot are vegetables and garlic as they impart much of the flavor base into the mussels, as well as your favorite beer or white wine to infuse even more flavor while the mussels steam.  Finish off with fresh parsley to brighten up before serving. Slurp up the little guys with fresh bread to sop up the remaining broth.

I was sent a lovely bottle of Clambake Chardonnay to sample.  This sweet wine boasts excellent pairing with seafood, and is the perfect summer wine.  Not only did we steam our mussels in the wine, we also had enough to drink a chilled glass with it - and boy, was it refreshing.  Clambake is currently available in DC at: Dcanter, The Tombs, Batch 13, Dean and Deluca, Rappahannock Oyster Bar, and De Vinos.  Learn more at: www.ripelifewines.com

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