Belgian moules-frites, out of the pan and on a plate, with high-quality mayonaise, in my father's kitchen, Tilburg, 2021.

Belgian moules-frites, out of the pan and on a plate, with high-quality mayonaise, in my father's kitchen, Tilburg, 2021.

It was my father who instigated my cooking of a European classic, when I hadn't done any dishes close to home yet for this project. In a way, European cuisine is something I've basically grown up on and thus it doesn't hold the same adventorous allure as those cuisines farther across the earth. I promise I won't forget about the rich European history though.

Mussels are ubiquitous along the Dutch and Belgium coast, with most of them being farmed in the Waddenzee and the Oosterschelde in The Netherlands. They are a seafood staple in both countries (and lots of others too — e.g., Spain — but their use in food is different). Moules-frites is considered the national dish of Belgium.

I read up on some original Belgian ideas on this dish, but for preparation I mostly relied on my father's experience. Good sources include Wikipedia, Saveur, and this masterclass on baking fries in Dutch.

Naturally, I wanted to make my own fries too, something I had never done before. Belgian fries are cut rather thickly — one centimeter in width — which gives them a more varied range of texture after frying. Though to achieve this, they should be fried twice — once to pre-bake them, and once to finish off their crust.

Begin by cutting your potatoes into fries of one-centimeter dimensions, skin on. Everyone swears by the Bintje variety, but these are no longer sold in Dutch supermarkets (too much pesticides), so I had to go with another one that is sold as "fries potato". You basically want a variety in between waxy and floury — too waxy results in fries with no satisfying bite on the inside, too floury results in fries with a puree-like inside. Soak them in cold water to rinse of the outside starch that would interfere with achieving a desirable crust. Then, thoroughly pat them dry.

The pre-frying stage requires your fat (some sort of oil with sufficiently high smoking point or beef drippings) to be at a temperature of one-hundred-and-fifty degrees Celsius. Have it a bit hotter, because when dumping in the potato, temperature drops quickly. Fry the potatoes for a few minutes until their insides are done-enough. We are not looking to color them yet. This took about three to four minutes for me. Take them out and let them drip on some paper towels. Be aware that we should not be crowding the frying pan because the fries won't cook properly (temperature drops too heavily, and then they will just end up "boiling" in the oil instead of frying). Adhere to limiting the volume of potatoes to one-tenth of your volume of fat.

For the second stage, aim your fat's temperature at one-hundred-and-ninety. Fry them in small enough batches again until they crisp up to a desirable degree. I did mine for two to three minutes at first, but then noticed that they could easily be in there twice as long and improve in their crispiness. It might take some experimentation.

Preparing the mussels is very easy (have them cleaned and soaked beforehand). We sautéed onion, leeks, and celery in a good chunk of butter (a little bit of salt to draw out the vegetables' moisture quicker). Add some garlic and stir for a minute to release its fragrance. Deglaze with dry white wine and lemon juice. Crack some fresh black pepper, add parsley stems. Dump in your mussels, about five-hundred to seven-hundred-and-fifty grams per person. Cover the pan with a lid and give it a few good shakes, mixing everything inside. We now steam the mussels for around five minutes until they are nice and tender, with their shells opened. Mix a few times in between.

The mussels are traditionally served in their pan on the table. Garnish with parsley.

Turning to the topic of mayonaise. Apparently, in Belgium, they serve moules-frites with plain mayonaise only. My father instead really enjoys making some additional sauces with his mussels. Think of garlic, parsley, yogurt, mayonaise combinations.

This time around, I served it with good French mayonaise, and a vegan mayonaise for fun.