Until I spent a year in France I had never heard of the Beaujolais wine. Then, in November I noticed that all the bars were advertising “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé.” Literally translated it means – The new Beaujolais has arrived! Sounds wrong in English but great in French. Once a year, in November in France, there’s a real buzz as everyone tries to assess whether this year’s harvest has been a good one or not.
Something similar happens in Belgium at the beginning of September. September is traditionally the month when the mussels from the North Sea grow again and are ready to be caught and eaten. Small talk in Belgian households centres on the state and quality of this year’s harvest. Are they big, small, tasty, bland? Is there a shortage of mussels or a glut? Has the price gone up or down? Where can the best ones be bought? Charity dinners are organised selling mussels and chips. Belgium’s famous moules frites – mussels and chips to you and me – are much loved here and for very good reason.
That all said the best moules frites I ever tasted were in a tiny sea resort along the Atlantic coast in France, out of season, in July. The mussels themselves were rather small but the cook – in good French tradition – had added plenty of garlic, salt and butter.
The weather was still balmy this past week-end and we decided to BBQ. G. being a good Belgian had an urge to try this season’s mussels. Normally we cook them in a pot on the stove but the smoky flavour from the BBQ adds a really delightful touch that you don’t get when simply steaming them in a pot on the stove. Here then is the recipe for BBQ mussels with plenty of garlic! They are surprisingly simple and easy to prepare.
1 kg of mussels
Plenty of chopped garlic (around six cloves)
Parsley, thyme, mint
Sea salt & pepper
Some liquid – either beer, white wine, tomatoes, plain old water or (if you have some brewing at home) ginger beer.
Rinse the mussels in the kitchen sink. Remove the “beard” growing along the edge of the mussels. Discard any open mussels. They are probably dead and could harbour dangerous bacteria.
When you have finished prepping the mussels spread out two large sheet of aluminium foil making sure you have enough at the top to cover the mussels. Spread the mussels between the two foils – this gives them enough room to cook. If you have a low sieve you can rest the aluminium in there. Sprinkle the mussels with a generous amount of salt, pepper, the roughly chopped garlic and the herbs and mix the ingredients into the mussels by hand so that the flavours are evenly distributed. Splash your liquid of choice over the top. It doesn’t need to be much since the mussels release a lot of their own juices as they cook. Seal the top with the spare aluminium foil – called a Papillon (butterfly).
Place over the grill and leave to cook – anywhere from 10-20 minutes depending on the heat of your BBQ. Toss occasionally to ensure an even distribution of heat.
Ours took around 20 minutes. They are ready when all of the shells have popped open revealing a lovely orange mussel.