WASHINGTON — Here’s a winner: the 2012 Belgian Restaurant Week Mussel Throwdown winning dish, to be exact. Chefs representing local restaurants Belga Cafe, Brasserie Beck, Et Voila!, Locolat and Granville Moore’s competed for top honors at Washington’s third annual event, held earlier in July.
Chef Martin Castillo of Belga Cafe came up with the recipe, a version of which has been on the menu of the Capitol Hill restaurant for about eight months, he says.
The taste lives up to its aromatic ingredients, which include leek, a bit of bacon and chorizo (a nod to the Mexican-born chef, perhaps), a puree of greens, Stella Artois beer and the essence of truffle, delivered fresh or via a good-quality oil such as Sabatino Tartufi brand. Seven pounds of mussels makes a generous main course for four.
Serve with crusty bread for dipping.
For the beer and mussel jus
6 tablespoons Stella Artois beer
1 pound mussels, preferably from Prince Edward Island
For the green puree
1 large or 2 small leeks
1 tablespoon salted butter
1/2 teaspoon truffle oil (see headnote)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 stem basil
1 stem flat-leaf parsley
5 ounces fresh spinach leaves
Leaves from 1 bunch basil
Leaves from 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
3 ice cubes
8 ounces Belgian endive
1/4 medium red onion
1- or 2-inch piece crisped bacon
2-inch piece cooked chopped chorizo
6 pounds mussels, preferably from Prince Edward Island
2 teaspoons finely chopped truffle or 1 teaspoon truffle oil
11/2 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons Stella Artois beer
Freshly ground black pepper
For the beer and mussel jus: Heat the beer in a large pot over high heat.
Meanwhile, clean the mussels under running water. If any of them are open, tap gently on them. If they do not close, discard them.
Add the mussels to the pot. Cover and cook for a few minutes until the mussels have opened fully. Discard any that do not open. Strain the mussels; reserve them for assembly. Reserve the cooking liquid.
For the green puree: Trim the root end and dark-green parts of the leek(s). Reserve the white part; cut the green part into small dice to yield 1/4 cup. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the green leek and cook for a few minutes until softened, then stir in the reserved cooking liquid, the truffle oil and the cream. Add the basil and parsley stems. Cook uncovered until the liquid has reduced by about half. Discard the herb stems, if desired. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and puree until smooth. Let cool.
While the leek is cooking, bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the spinach, basil and parsley leaves; cook for 1 to 2 minutes, then use a Chinese skimmer/strainer to transfer to the food processor (with the first part of the green puree still in it). Add the ice cubes and puree until smooth. Let cool.
To assemble: Cut the reserved white part of the leek into small dice to yield 1/4 cup. Trim the endive and discard its core, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Cut the red onion into small dice, to yield 1/4 cup. Cut the bacon into small dice to yield 1 tablespoon. Cut the chorizo into small dice to yield 2 tablespoons.
Clean the mussels under running water. If any of them are open, tap gently on them. If they do not close, discard them.
Combine the leek, endive, red onion, bacon, chorizo, truffles or truffle oil, the cream and the beer in a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then add the mussels. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then shake or stir to incorporate/agitate all the ingredients in the pot. If desired, add the reserved cooked mussels (from the first step) to the pot. Cover and cook/steam until the mussels have opened.
Uncover and drizzle the green puree over the mussels. Bring to the table and serve from the pot.