Smith: Belgian cuisine
Special to The Union
The history of Belgium is a rambling tale with just about every major European player, including the Celts and Romans, having controlled some or all of its current territories at one time or another.
Later it was part of the larger nation known as The United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which comprised Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland. The Belgian Revolution, ending in 1839, divided the three states roughly as they exist now.
Belgium today is comprised of three distinct regions. Wallonia, (French speaking in the South), Flanders, (Dutch speaking in the North), and the bi-lingual region around Brussels in the center. Brussels, as the capital of the nation and the European Union and the headquarters of NATO is an important and prosperous cosmopolitan presence.
The terrain of Belgium is also divided into thirds. The coastal region in the west, the fertile plains in the center and the Ardennes Mountains in the east.
The cuisine of Belgium is a wonderful blend of Europe’s best, with the strongest influences coming from the Germanic/Dutch/Flemish cultures in the North and the French in the South.
One of the most popular dishes in Belgium is moules frites, which is sautéed mussels and french fries. Belgians like their fries so well that the French make jokes about it.
Legend has it that what we call french fries were actually first made in Belguim. While Under Spanish control in the late 15th century, a severe cold snap hit the people living in the low lying Meuse area. The river that sustained the locals completely froze over.
They had learned frying food in oil from the Spaniards, who also introduced potatoes from the new world. When they couldn’t catch and fry the fish they loved, they hit upon frying potatoes cut into strips approximating their small river fish.
You can imagine the Belgians are none too happy that their pommes frites picked up the name french fries in English, probably from American GI’s in World War II. And of course, few Frenchmen allow Belgians the credit for inventing them.
Another favorite item on the Belgian table is endive. Endive is to Belgium what tulips are to Holland. Belgians are also excellent cheese makers, vintners and brewers.
This November, The Old 5Mile House will be serving up two versions of moules frites, Belgian endive and ham au gratin, endive and pear salad with goat cheese, vol au vent — a puff pastry bowl stuffed with luscious seafood, short ribs braised to supple tenderness with Belgian ale, and seared salmon with orange sauce, (recipe follows).
This unique, tasty, satisfying food is prefect for the beautiful fall weather.
Belgian Salmon with Orange Sauce
2 tablespoons cold Butter
1/4 cup coarsely grated yellow onion
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 cup Riesling
2 1/2 cups Fresh squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch of ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons orange juice
4 tablespoons clarified butter
4 wild salmon filets about 8 oz each
Salt and pepper
Heat cold butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add ginger and onions. Sauté until onions are clear and soft. Do not let butter or onions brown.
Deglaze pan with wine. Add juice and remaining sauce ingredients. Reduce sauce by one-third. Mix cornstarch and the 2 tablespoons of orange juice in a small cup. Add it to the sauce, stirring with a whisk and heat until it thickens.
Meanwhile heat another heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Season top of salmon with salt and pepper. Add clarified butter to pan. Sear salmon to get a crisp crust on the one side. Do not sear on second side. Fish should be cooked to rare at this stage.
Transfer fish uncooked side down to the sauce pan. Cook fish to preferred doneness.
Plate fish seared side up on dinner plates. Pour sauce over top. Garnish with orange slices. Serve with rice and a vegetable and a crisp white wine.
Robert Smith is the chef owner of the Old 5Mile House where they serve roadhouse food from around the world.
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