Archive for the ‘Belgium’Category

Making PEI mussels like the mussel master

Mussels to steamAs a native Belgian and as the man who launched mussel aquaculture on Prince Edward
Island (see post), Joel Van Den Bremt has eaten his share of mussels over the years. When I asked him how he preferred to cook them, he thought a bit and told me, “steamed, but with the vegetables soft enough to eat. I like the vegetables, too.” I agree with him. Some diners will pass the mussels to someone else at the table and just concentrate on the mussel-flavored broth. I prefer the three-bowl plan: one for the mussels, one of the spent shells, and a third for broth and vegetables. Although you can steam mussels in a dry pan, relying on their own juices, many people add raw vegetables to the pot. But by the time the mussels are cooked, the vegetables are neither cooked nor raw. If you keep cooking to finish the vegetables, the mussels will come out vulcanized. Joel’s solution is to sauté the veggies first.


Serves 4 as an appetizer

1/4 lb butter, cut into pieces
6 shallots, minced
2 stalks celery, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 large carrot (2-3 salad carrots), cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 cups white wine
5 lb. (about 3 quarts) live blue mussels

In large stockpot over medium heat, melt butter, and add shallots, celery, and carrots. Stir steadily and cook until vegetables begin to soften.

Add wine and mussels. Bring to a boil and cover pot. Steam for about 5 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened their shells.

Remove mussels to four bowls using slotted spoon. Ladle broth and vegetables into four smaller bowls.

Fishermen feed the world (especially on PEI)

I met one of my heroes yesterday at the PEI International Shellfish Festival. I say “hero” even though I had never known his name until I met him, but Jozef Van Den Bremt changed the way a lot of us eat. A Belgian immigrant who wanted to find a way to contribute to his adopted country and his new home province of Prince Edward Island, he set out in the 1970s to figure out how to grow blue mussels. It’s not that mussels were uncommon.

Joel They cling to every rock and pier in the North Atlantic–and every one of those wild mussels is full of grit in its flesh. To get sweet, juicy and grit-free mussels, you need to cultivate them on a substrate where the sand doesn’t wash into them. Van Den Bremt went to Holland and to Spain to see how they did it, and quickly figured that the winter ice around PEI would crush the raft environments that Europe used. Through trial and error, he developed a rope strategy, producing his first cultured mussels in 1978 for PEI Mussel King, Inc. They sold for 40 cents a pound. Mussels today bring in $26.7 million a year to the province–and give us all a lot of good eating. What Van Den Bremt likes best is that the mussel industry is spread all around the island among individuals. “The money,” he says, “doesn’t go into corporate coffers. It goes to the fishermen-farmers.”

So I count it an honor to have shaken the hand of the Belgian immigrant who showed us North Americans just how good a mussel can be. Joe’s proud, too, that it was his gift back to Canada. He estimates that mussel aquaculture has brought $1 billion to Prince Edward Island in the last 36 years.

Steaming mussels in Belgian witbier

Eric Cauwbarghs of Brasserie Kouterhof

Eric Cauwbarghs of Brasserie Kouterhof

As Belgians will attest, beer is every bit as good as white wine for steaming mussels. Chef Eric Cauwbarghs of the Brasserie Kouterhof, which is attached to the ‘t Wit Gebrouw brewery in Hoegaarden, Belgium (about a half hour east of Brussels on a commuter train), showed me this straightforward but aromatic way to make a hearty winter dish of mussels and vegetables. The brewery’s Hoegaarden witbier (white beer) is made with Curaçao orange peel and coriander, and the aromatics make a big difference in the flavor of the mussels. When I can’t find Hoegaarden witbier at home (it’s distributed selectively by Anheuser-Busch), I substitute another wheat beer and augment it with a little fresh orange zest.



2 pounds mussels
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 stalk of celery, cut diagonally in 1/2 inch slices
2 small crowns broccoli, sliced 1/4 inch thick on the long diagonal
1 large red pepper, seeded and cut in 1/2 inch strips
3/4 cup Hoegaarden witbier
1/4 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped parsley


1. Scrub mussels in cold water, removing any adhering beards or barnacles and discarding any broken mussels or any that don’t close when touched by cold water. Reserve cleaned mussels.

2. Place olive oil in large sauté pan with tall sides. Warm over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.

3. Add garlic, celery, broccoli, and red peppers. Turn heat to high. Stirring continuously, sauté until broccoli begins to soften, about 2 minutes.

Mussels and vegetables

Mussels and vegetables

4. Add mussels to sauté pan. Add beer and anchovy paste and stir constantly over high heat until mussels open (2-3 minutes). Pour in cream and stir until warmed through.

5. Add sliced scallions and chopped parsley to pan. Stir well over high heat for another 30 seconds.

6. Serve with freshly cut bread, cold beer, and extra bowls for the shells.


12 2009

Is it the beer—or the pour?

The Bestowal

The Bestowal

I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I just learned that Avril Maxwell of New Zealand won the 2009 Stella Artois World Draught Master competition, which was held in New York on October 29. She beat representatives from 25 other countries in what might be the most harrowing bartenders’ competition in the world. It’s a promotion for Stella Artois that fixates on the brand’s nine-step pouring ritual. If you want to practice at home, you’ll need a pressurized keg with a proper tap. The steps go like this:

1. “The Purification.” Clean and rinse the glass.
2. “The Sacrifice.” Open and close the tap quickly to clear the line.
3. “Liquid Alchemy.” Place the glass under (not against) the tap at a 45 degree angle and begin the pour.
4. The Head.” Lower the glass to allow the perfect head to form.
5. “The Removal.” Close the tap quickly and move the glass without letting any beer drip.
6. “The Beheading.” Smooth off excess foam with a head cutter.
7. “The Judgment.” The proper head should be about two fingers.
8. “The Cleansing.” Clean the bottom and sides of the glass.
9. “The Bestowal.” Present the beer on the proper coaster with the logo facing the drinker.

Inbev Brewery, Leuven, Belgium

Inbev Brewery, Leuven, Belgium

I had the pleasure of watching (and cheering) the 2008 competition held in Leuven, Belgium, where Stella is brewed. A pass to the competition requires an invitation, but anyone can visit the brewery Monday-Friday and taste the freshest Stella you’ll ever encounter. The beer is impeccable. I’m still trying to decide if the pouring ritual makes it even better. If nothing else, my thirst keeps building as the bartender pours. Despite the brand’s best efforts, though, it’s hard to find a proper Stella pour in most bars I frequent.

Some other InBev tastes

And, to be honest, I’m even fonder of a sister brewery in Inbev’s Belgian portfolio, Hoegaarden. Like Stella Artois, it is distributed in the U.S. by Anheuser-Busch (another Inbev line). While the Stella brewery is a large industrial complex, Hoegaarden’s ‘t Wit Gebrouw brewery is small and colorful—and has a great restaurant/pub attached: Brasserie Kouterhof.


11 2009