It’s July. Which means mussel season has officially begun! Hooray! What? You’ve heard you should only eat mussels in those months containing an ‘r’? Well, luckily for mussel-lovers that’s nonsense. This idea stems from the fact that in the past it was not yet possible to transport mussels refrigerated. Nowadays, mussel season is actually quite long and you can get nice, fresh mussels anywhere from July until April of the following year.
While mussels are enjoyed all over the world, steamed mussels are often associated with Belgium (sorry, France). While visiting Belgium in the past, I too could never resist indulging in their staple dish of ‘moules-frites’ – a large pot of mussels steamed in white wine with some thick potato fries on the side. However, while Belgians are known for consuming mussels at large, most of these mussels are actually not from Belgium, but from my home country The Netherlands.
Despite not being as well-known for consuming mussels as maybe the Belgians are, the Dutch really do enjoy a big steaming pot of these salty bivalves – made with the tasty mussels famously grown in Zeeland, a province which is basically a large river delta on the western coast of the Netherlands.
My recipe here for a classic ‘Zeeuwse mosselpan’, is the most basic and commonly made version with white wine and vegetables. Diced bacon is sometimes added as well, but my version is simply loaded with lots of fresh veggies that make the dish a bit more substantial and give the liquid a lovely rich flavour. It’s not uncommon to find mussels steamed in beer in Belgium and The Netherlands. So, if you’d like to try something a little different, simply substitute the 200ml of white wine for 200ml pilsner, or dark beer.
While the dish is great by itself it’s always nice to serve it with some accompaniments. Fried potatoes are, of course, a classic side, but I like to serve my mussels with a nice piece of crusty bread to mop up all the briny cooking liquid… which can be done without any guilt (not that there would be any), as my version here does not contain any butter, or cream… surprisingly, actually.
A dipping sauce is not essential either, but I usually do serve the mussels with a simple garlic- or cocktail sauce. Honestly though, the real favourite is the classic musselsauce written down below. It has been spruced up a little with some freshly chopped tarragon, but the sauce is traditionally without it (in case you can’t find any, it’ll be fine). While I would say the sauce is optional, nothing beats the combination of briny mussels and a vinegary, creamy condiment.
Oh yeah, on a final note, forget about using a fork to remove the mussels from their shells; simply use an empty shell to grab onto the mussels and dunk them into the sauce.
Classic Mussels (Zeeuwse Mosselpan)
- 2kg mussels
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 large carrot
- 1 leek
- 1 fennel bulb
- 3 celery sticks
- 3 garlic cloves
- 200ml white wine
- Bread for serving
- For the musselsauce:
- 5 tablespoons mayonaise
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 1 tablespoon red, or white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
- 2 tablespoons cooking liquid from the mussels
- Salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Scrub and rinse the mussels under cold running water and discard any broken ones. Debeard the mussels (meaning: remove the ‘hairy’ thing hanging off the side of the mussel by pulling it towards the hinge end).
- Cut the onion, carrot, leek, fennel bulb, celery sticks and garlic into thin slices.
- Add sliced vegetables to a large pot and sauté for about 8 minutes.
- Add the mussels and 200ml of white wine to the pot and cover with a lid. Bring to a boil on medium to high heat. Boil for about 6 minutes, or until the mussels have opened.
- While the mussels are boiling, start preparing the musselsauce by stirring together 5 tablespoons of mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon mustard, 1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon and some salt and pepper to taste. When the mussels are done, add two tablespoons of cooking liquid from the mussels to the sauce.
- Serve mussels immediately with some crusty bread and the sauce on the side.