Melissa Elsmo

Several years ago our French exchange student, Elise, taught me how to make Moules Frites; it was her all time favorite vacation food. The unexpected combination of delicately steamed mussels and crispy twice fried potatoes is a Belgian delight and has earned a place of prominence at our family table; my son frequently requests the dish as part of his birthday dinner. A simple both  of celery, onion and wine to bring them the shellfish to life while a generous knob of salted butter gives the briny mussels a perfect bit of richness on the finish. 

Creating  your own Belgian seaside feast in the heart of the Chicago suburbs is the perfect way to celebrate the flavors of the World Cup. I did not anticipate Belgium beating Brazil in the quarter finals, but feel like win or lose today, this Belgian favorite should make an appearance at your family table! 

Moules and Frites- Four servings 

Getting the mussels and potatoes to finish cooking at the same time is the trickiest part of making this traditional Belgian meal, but having two cooks prepare this recipe together is ideal! Have one cook prepare the ingredients broth while the other preps the potatoes. Just don’t add the mussels to the pot until the frites are nearly done cooking. 

For the Mussels: 

  • 3 Pounds of fresh mussels, scrubbed clean 
  • 3 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 Celery stalks, washed and thinly sliced 
  • 1 Large onion, halved and thinly sliced 
  • Salt and Pepper 
  • 4 Garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 Bottle of white wine
  •  2 Tablespoon of salted butter 
  • ¼ Cup of celery leaves, chopped 
  • ¼ Cup of Italian parsley, chopped 

For the Potatoes:

  • 4 Large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼”x 3” batons 
  • Canola oil for frying
  •  Kosher Salt 
  • Ketchup and mayonnaise for dipping 

To prepare the mussels: While scrubbing mussels check to make sure they are all firmly closed and none of the shells are cracked. If a mussel does not fully close or has a damaged shell discard it before cooking. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat and add the celery and onion. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper and cook stirring frequently until vegetables are soft, but not brown (about 10 minutes). Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant (about 45 seconds). Pour the wine into the pot and bring to a boil. Allow the liquid to reduce by half before adding the mussels to the liquid. Stir to coat the mussels, cover and allow the mixture to cook until mussels have just opened (about 6 minutes). Add the butter to the pot and stir gently until it melts and coats the mussels. Sprinkle the cooked mussels with the celery leaves and the parsley. Serve at once. 

To Prepare the Potatoes: Soak the cut potatoes in ice water for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, pour canola oil into a large high sided skillet to a depth of three inches. Heat the oil to 325 degrees over medium heat. Dry the potatoes on paper towels and add to the oil in batches. Do not over crowd the pan; I suggest a minimum of 4 batches. When the oil is the proper temperature it will look like the potatoes are boiling in the oil. Cook the potatoes for 9 minutes or until tender when pricked with a toothpick, but not browned. Drain on paper towels. Repeat until all potatoes are done. Add additional oil to the pan to keep oil at a depth of 4 inches and increase heat to 375 degrees. Return the potatoes to the oil and fry until crunchy and golden brown. The oil should be bubbling vigorously around the potatoes as they cook. Transfer to paper towel lined pans, season with salt and serve piping hot with ketchup and mayonnaise on the side.

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