What's Cool In Road Cycling

Eat To Compete: Belgian Mussels

When I think of the Northern Classics, I think of 3 things: Belgium, beer and frites. But if I was to make anything that resembled the riders’ diets over this couple of weeks it would contain far too much mud or dust to be palatable, let alone be a tasty, appealing meal. Luckily the Pez himself had a better idea: Mussels.

– By Casey Weaver –

To stage the stage, Pez first learned of Belgium’s love for mussels when he interviewed Belgain pro Bert Roesems way back in 2004, who told us: “when you’re in Oostende you have to eat mussels”. And that’s good enough for us.

Here’s the best part of a 7 hour ride in the cold Belgian rain – a tasty bowl of steamed mussels as your reward. And thanks to us – you can skip the ride part and get straight to enjoying these…

And now, with the weather warming up it’s time to start peeling off your knee warmers and putting the heavy winter ales back on the shelf. A warm Spring Classic calls for a warm-weather beer, and most will agree there are few beers better to sip on a sunny, late-spring afternoon than a Belgian witte. Good thing, too, because the spicy flavors of these beers pair well with spring veggies and make for an incredible broth for steaming mussels.

Start with fresh mussels – and chuck any that are closed or smell funky.

2 lbs mussels, rinsed well and debearded
2 shallots, diced
1 medium fennel bulb (plus leaves), diced
ј cup fennel leaves, chopped
1 leek, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
ј cup parsley, chopped
1 cup Belgian wheat beer
1 cup chicken stock
juice from one lemon
1 T olive oil
black pepper

1 loaf fresh baked bread

It seems that when most people see mussels or clams or any other shellfish they think to themselves “fancy and unapproachable.” This does not have to be the case. Mussels are not just festive dйcor in the seafood case at the market, they are relatively cheap, easy to work with, and are there to be eaten. When buying any seafood, fresh is the only way to go. This is especially true with shellfish. If it looks or smells funky, don’t bother. Always discard open mussels before cooking, and after buying shellfish, make sure to get it on ice straight away once you return home.

To Start
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add the shallots, fennel, leeks, and garlic. Season the veggies with salt and pepper and cook until they are beginning to soften, about eight minutes, stirring often.

For this dish I like to use a considerable amount of vegetables. For a standard broth you can easily get by using about half of what I use here, but because we are being all health conscious, I like the veggies to add some substance to the dish, and not just flavor.

Steam those suckers!

Once the veggies are soft, add the beer, stock, lemon juice and parsley. Bring the liquid to a boil then add the mussels. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer until the mussels have opened and are cooked, about five minutes. Discard any unopened mussels. Spoon them onto a plate with a generous amount of broth, then top with the chopped fennel leaves.

Any wheat beer enthusiast will tell you that a true, quality wheat beer should be enjoyed sans lemon, but there is no doubt that the spicy flavors of a good witte go well with the tang of fresh lemon juice. When cooking with such a flavorful beer, the addition of lemon makes those flavors jump out even more. I recommend cooking with a middle of the road Belgian style wheat beer, like Blue Moon, and pairing the dish with something a bit more exciting (with or without a slice of lemon). Two great microbrews are Allagash White, or what I happened to pick up, Ommegang Witte.

If your beer starts to look like this, you’ve probably had too many.

Warm the bread in the oven and serve alongside the mussels to sop up the broth. The type of bread is up to you. Being California born and bred, it’s hard for me to go with anything other than a loaf of fresh sourdough, though your standard fresh baked French bread is great, too.

Any nutrition expert will tell you that when cooking veggies, boiling is one of the worst ways to go because it essentially leaches all the nutrient value from the food, leaving it stranded in the water used to cook, which is usually discarded. But in this case the liquid used to cook is arguably the best part of the dish, and you should have no problem wiping up every last bit of it with your bread.

Unfortunately I did not have my official mussel tester on hand to approve the recipe, but there is no doubt that with a base of Belgian beer and fresh spring vegetables, it is much better than choking down the dust from the cobbles of Roubaix for six hours straight.

About The Author:
Casey grew up in the kitchen inspired by his mom and grandmother, who ran the catering and cooking instruction company, Cooking in the Canyon, in Brentwood, Ca. He is the creator of the website CulinaryCompetitor.com a recipe resource for athletes who love good food. He received his undergraduate degree in Communication Studies from UCLA, currently races for the NOW-MS elite amateur cycling team, and coaches endurance athletes with Velo-Fit, llc.

• Contact Casey at [email protected].

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