Gebakken Mosselen

 Last weekend, I was really craving fish: a fresh herring, a little bit of smoked mackerel, a lekkerbekje, or even a small tray of kibbeling (with remoulade sauce of course), would have satisfied my palate. Even a portion of smoked eel would have done the trick! It made me realize how fortunate we are in the Netherlands, where there are still specialized fishmongers in almost every town, right next to the cheese shop, the local bakery, and the butchers. Of course, I am well aware that slowly but surely these specialized shops are disappearing, as so many buyers prefer to shop and get everything from the local supermarket. The danger in that is, and that is not only in the Netherlands but everywhere else, that these specialists with their unique recipes, products, and knowledge, retire or close up shop - and that the knowledge is lost forever. 

But back to the fishmongers' store: here you can find a large variety of fresh fish and seafood, as well as prepared foods. Large platters with a variety of fish, seafood, marinades, and dipping sauces are available for the barbecue (grill) for those summer weekends, or for those gourmet evenings with friends and family. Soft white rolls are stuffed with herring, eel, mackerel, fish paté, or smoked salmon for a bite on the go. They sell shrimp, salmon, herring, or mackerel salads by the portion or by the kilo, for lunch, or for a party. I could go on and on about the amazing foods you can find at the visboer....and most of this is made in-house, and according to traditional recipes. 

After cooking up mussels the other day, I was left with about two pounds after dinner: a typical case of eyes bigger than my stomach....but not really, for I had a cunning plan; fried mussels!! These babies are scooped out of their shell, battered, deep-fried, and served with a dipping sauce. Delicious as a snack, with a cold glass of something or other, or served with a fresh spinach stamppot, for example, for dinner: these mussels are very versatile! 

If you prepare them from scratch, use this recipe for 2 lbs (1 kg) mussels, but substitute the cup of wine for beer, and cool them after steaming. Two pounds of mussels will give you approximately 8 ounces (225 grams) of meat. If you don't care for beer or wine, you can fish stock or plain water. Use seltzer water for the batter, if you can. You can also often buy already shelled mussel meat in the freezer section. 

I used the same mustard dipping sauce that I had for the steamed mussels, but you can also make a remoulade sauce or one of your own liking.

Fried mussels

8 oz (225 grams) mussel meat
1/4 cup flour (75 grams)
1/2 cup (100 ml) beer
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon paprika powder
1/8 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
4 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped finely (or 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley leaves)

1 lemon

Pat the mussels dry and look for any shell pieces or "beards", small tendrils that are attached to the mussel. Remove. Mix the flour with 3/4 of the beer, the egg, the baking powder, and the rest of the ingredients. Let it sit for five minutes, while you prepare the dipping sauce(s). The batter needs to be thick, like the consistency of thick American pancake batter. If it's thickened too much, add a bit more of the beer and stir. 

Heat the fryer to 350F. Set a large platter or a bowl to the side with a few paper towels to soak up the grease. With two spoons, dip each mussel in the batter, and shake off as much batter as you can. Drop them carefully in the hot oil. Fry the morsels golden brown, for about four minutes, and fish them out of the oil, and onto the paper towels. 

Slice the lemon in quarters and squeeze over the mussels. Time to dig in!

Serves four. 

Fries Suikerbrood (Fryske Sukerbole)

Frisian sugar loaf slices
or suikerbrood, sugar bread,  is a traditional bread from the northern province of Friesland, in Holland. Other provinces such as Limburg and Brabant have a similar recipe for sugary bread loaves but what sets the Frisian bread apart is the high amount of sugar. In comparison to other regional recipes, Frisians use twice as much sugar. It's therefore a sticky, sugary loaf, but oh so delicious! 

The sûkerbôle was often given to a new mother to celebrate the arrival of a baby girl; for baby boys, it was a raisin cake.

The sugar used for this recipe is called pearl sugar and is hard to find in a regular store, so I order mine from Amazon (here's the link)* Crushed-up sugar cubes are a good substitute: put them in a clean towel, fold it over, and give it a few whacks with t with a rolling pin. Not too hard! You want to have sugar lumps, not finely ground sugar. Handfold these lumps in the dough after the first rise.

Fryske Sûkerbôle
2 teaspoons dry active yeast
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (200 ml) milk
3 1/2 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons ginger syrup (optional)**
1 egg
5 tablespoons (80 grams) butter, melted
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (150 grams) pearl sugar, or crushed sugar cubes

For the pan: 
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon regular sugar

Add the yeast to the warm milk. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Pour in the milk and yeast and mix together. Knead in the ginger syrup if using, the egg, and the melted butter until the dough forms a soft and flexible dough. This will take a little while, as the dough at first seems scraggly, about a good ten minutes. Cover and rise until double its size.

On a lightly floured counter, roll out the dough in a rectangle (about the length of the pan) and sprinkle the cinnamon over it, and then the pearl sugar. Now roll the dough into a loaf shape (first fold the sides towards each other, covering the sugar and cinnamon, then roll up into a loaf). Some of the pearl sugar may fall out - just roll the dough over it so it gets embedded on the outside. 
Sugar and cinnamon filling

Butter the inside of a 9 x 5 inch (23 x 13 cm) loaf pan with the melted butter, but save a little bit for the loaf itself, about half a tablespoon. Put a tablespoon of sugar in the pan and tilt it forward towards each side so that the sugar coats the whole inside. Place the loaf inside, seam down. Cover and rise for about 15 minutes, or until loaf peaks out from inside the pan.

In the meantime, heat your oven to 375F (190C) degrees. Bake for 30 minutes or until loaf is done (measure with a digital thermometer: look for 190F or 87C). If the top browns too quickly, tent the loaf with aluminum foil.

As soon as the bread comes out of the oven, brush the top with the leftover melted butter. Cool the loaf for about five minutes, then carefully loosen the bread from the pan as some of the sugar may have caused the bread to stick. Remove the loaf and continue to cool on a rack. If you want a supersticky loaf, put the bread in a plastic bag when it's still lukewarm. 

Awesome with a curl of real butter!

Buttered sugar loaf on a plate

* this is my Amazon associate's link. If you purchase something through this link, I will get a few pennies (literally) at no cost to you. All the proceeds are used to maintain this website.

** If you don't have ginger syrup, don't worry. I soak a tablespoon (10 grams) of chopped candied ginger and one tablespoon of sugar in two tablespoons of hot water. Let sit for about a good hour, then remove the ginger and use the syrup. Or....if you like ginger as much as I do, add the chopped pieces to the dough. What's the worse that can happen? Exactly. 

Friese Uiensoep (Fryske Sipelsop)

The Frisian language is such a unique language, and so different to Dutch. Just look at the name of this dish. Ui, meaning "onion" in Dutch, and "sipel" meaning the same thing in Frisian. Where do these differences come from? Well, I am glad you asked! According to the etymology of the words, "ui" has its origins in the French language, "oignon", where also the more old-fashioned word "ajuin" comes from, another Dutch word for onions. In Friesland, however, they veered more towards the Germanic side of things, hence "sipel" which stems from "zwiebel", the German word for onion. 

Fortunately, the soup doesn't care where the words come from, as it's as tasty made with "uien" as it is with "sipels". This is a thicker soup with a slight tangy flavor, and warming qualities: perfect for this cold weather we're experiencing here! The traditional cheese used for the toasted bread slices is Frisian cheese, a delicious gouda-style cheese flavored with cloves and cumin seeds. If you have access to it, great! If you don't, which is most likely, I've adapted the recipe so that you have the same flavors. 

Use a heavy bottomed skillet to caramelize the onions. Caramelizing the onions is a task of patience - browning the onions is slow, but it's so worth the effort as it gives a great color and fantastic flavor to the soup. I use this time to listen to Dutch radio or TV: it's a great distraction!

Friese Uiensoep

2 lbs (1 kg) onions, peeled and sliced in half moons
2 tablespoons (30 grams) butter
1/4 cup (50 grams) flour
4 cups (1 liter) vegetable or beef stock
4 cloves
2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Black pepper
Toasted bread rounds or croutons
2 oz (50 grams) Gouda (-type) cheese, grated
Pinch of cumin seeds

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed skillet until hot, and stir in the onions. Keep stirring frequently, until all the onions are golden brown. This will take at least a good 20 to 30 minutes on medium low heat. When they're golden, sprinkle the flour over the onions and give it a good stir so that the onions are coated, and continue to brown for a minute or two. Stir in the stock a little bit at a time, making sure that it's incorporated well, until it's a thick soup. Add the cloves and simmer for about twenty minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the cloves and stir in the two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce (optional). 

Top the bread rounds with grated cheese and melt the cheese under the broiler (I give it a quick 30 seconds in the microwave if I don't want to heat up the oven). Add a pinch of cumin seeds on top and serve with the soup. 

Serves 4. For a more substantial meal, dice a hardboiled egg and stir in the soup, right before serving.

Groningse Eierbal

Eierbal (egg ball), or aaierbal in the Groningen dialect, is a treat like no other. It's similar in looks to the Scotch egg, but whereas a Scotch egg has a wrapping of ground meat or sausage, the eierbal has a thick gravy coat, seasoned with curry spices and fresh parsley. Both contain a whole boiled egg, and both are breadcrumbed and deep-fried until they're golden and crispy, but where the Scotch egg gives a solid bite, the eierbal is creamier, much like a bitterbal or a kroket. The egg in the Gronings specialty is also soft boiled so that the yolk is still a little liquid. Heaven!

Contrary to other snacks, like the frikandel, the eierbal can not be found everywhere and seems to be specific to Groningen and surrounding areas. There is one place, in Venlo, Limburg, that claims to have been the originator of the treat, but the proprietor lived in Groningen for a while so possibly got her inspiration there. 

So how did this deep-fried egg ball happen to be in Groningen? I am glad you asked! During WW1, the Netherlands was neutral and provided a safe location for many English soldiers who were fleeing from the Germans in Belgium. They were interned in a camp in Groningen, named Timbertown. Up to 1,500 soldiers were housed here at one time. 

Photo source: Friends 
As the war progressed, the men became restless but as they were unable to leave the camp, they entertained themselves with theatre, music! A couple of lads opened up a chip shop on the premises. They named it the Timbertown Chip Shop, and were open every night from 4 PM - 8 PM. 

It is very, very possible that these men also made Scotch eggs, seeing as how the Scotch egg was already known for several centuries in England. As they were also in contact with the locals, it is easy to see how the idea of wrapping boiled eggs would have stuck. 

Since then, the eierbal has nestled itself so deeply into the local tradition and culture, that the golden snack was added to the inventory of Immaterial Cultural Heritages in 2017. As it appears to have been around since the early 1900s until now, you can imagine that the recipe has developed: almost everybody has a favorite snackbar to get their eierbal fix, or makes the recipe slightly different, but they're all considered eierballen, and they're all considered a Groningen tradition. 

I decided to make these after working on videos from Groningen for our YouTube channel. Many of you have commented on how much you enjoy the nostalgic throwbacks to older times, and see how our parents and grandparents lived. I was also making dinner at the time and decided to serve mine as a meat alternative with spinach stamppot. Not traditional, but delicious nonetheless! 

I chose to make the most traditional version, those with a curry ragout, but if you're making kroketten or bitterballen one of these days, you may try it also with a meaty ragout to see if you like it or substitute the curry powder with Mediterranean herbs, or something else you favor. I can also see where falafel seasoning would go well. You can also brush the egg with flavorings (sweet chili sauce, or mustard), so this recipe is perfect for turning it into a family exclusive! 

Groningse Eierbal

4 eggs

3 1/2 tablespoons butter (50 grams)

1/2 cup flour (100 grams)

2 cups vegetable or chicken bouillon (450 ml)

2 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 egg

1 cup breadcrumbs or panko (50 grams)

2 tablespoons flour

Oil for frying

Melt the butter in a skillet and stir in the flour, until it looks like wet sand. Slowly stir in the bouillon until you have a thick sauce, about four minutes. Add the curry powder and the parsley (or other flavors) and keep stirring for another two more minutes. Line a shallow pan with plastic film, pour the ragout sauce over it, and tap another piece of plastic on top, touching the sauce. This will keep it from drying out. Chill the ragout overnight, or for at least four hours, until solid. 

Boil 4 eggs for 5 minutes, then shock in cold water and peel. Divide the cold ragout into four pieces, and wrap each piece around an egg, shaping it into a round ball. This does not have to be precise, so do the best you can! Roll the wrapped eggs in a little bit of flour. Beat the 5th egg, and roll each egg in the egg wash, let the egg drip off a little bit, and then roll it in breadcrumbs or panko. Pat together and shape into a ball again. If you want, you can repeat the egg and breadcrumbing for a thicker coating. If you feel that these are too big, or want more of a small snack, boil the eggs one minute longer, and cut in half before wrapping.

Heat the fryer to 350F (170C) and carefully drop the eierballen in the fryer, one or two at a time. All at once may overflow the fryer, or drop the temperature too fast. Fry for five to six minutes, or until all sides are golden brown. Drain on a tray with kitchen towels to soak up some of the grease. Serve cut in half, cold or hot. 

Sources: Sikkom, Friends

Drentse Turfkoek

This week, I spent some time editing and posting videos on our YouTube channel about the province of Drenthe and its role in peat production during the last two centuries. Commercial peat logging started in the second half of the 19th century and lasted until the middle of the 20th century, but as early as the 16th century, the people in the Netherlands used dried peat (turf in Dutch) to heat their homes. 

Logging the raised bogs caused the landscape to change drastically, as you can imagine, as several canals were dug to benefit the transportation of the fossil fuel. For a short while, people from all over the country moved to Drenthe to try their luck in the industry, but life as a peat laborer was tough. When newer sources of fuel emerged, such as the Limburg coal, the peat industry dwindled quickly. Fortunately, it prevented the province from losing all of its natural beauty, so if you find yourself in the Netherlands with some time on your hands, it is an interesting destination to visit. 

And when you do, you will see that Drenthe embraces its turf history with gusto. A typical product that you will find at local bakeries, and slices of it offered with your cup of coffee, is the Drenthse turfkoek, a turf cake, so called because of its appearance. Its shape, elongated and rounded at the edges, is said to mimic the shape of a peat log. This is a fairly new invention, which results in different bakers using a variety of approaches, all tasty and delicious. The main ingredients are koekkruiden (a mix of herbs and spices), brown sugar, milk, and dried fruits and nuts. I used brandied walnuts, raisins (boerenjongens), and apricots (boerenmeisjes) from my oliebollen baking on New Year's eve, but you can also use apple, chocolate chips, or anything else that you fancy. You're looking for a sturdy cake with lots of chunky fillings, much like a peat log, but better tasting :-)

If you don't have an oval tin to bake in, you can easily use an 8 x 4, or a 9 x 5 cake form. 

Drentse Turfkoek
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (250 grams)
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (150 grams)
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
3 teaspoons koekkruiden*
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (75 grams)
3/4 cup dried fruits (currants, raisins, apricots...)** (100 grams)
1 egg
1 cup milk (250 ml)
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Mix the dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, spices, walnuts, dried fruits). Beat the egg with the milk and pour the liquid into the bowl with the dry mix. 

Grease a baking form, pour in the batter, and bake at 325F for 40 minutes, or until the cake is done. Test for doneness with a toothpick or metal skewer: if it comes out dry, the cake is done. 

Cool on a rack for five to ten minutes, then take out of the form and wrap in clingfilm. As the cake does not have any fat, it will dry out faster, so keep it wrapped. 

Dust lightly with powdered sugar, and slice in thick slices, slather with butter (or not) and serve with a cup of coffee or tea. 

* For koekkruiden, mix 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon with 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom, 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper, and, if you have it, 1/8 teaspoon of dried orange peel. If you like the flavor of anise, add a 1/8th teaspoon of ground anise to give it a special twist. Smell and decide if you like it.  You are welcome to make it your very own, but make sure you write down the quantities and ingredients so you can replicate your personal recipe. Store in an airtight jar. You can also use speculaaskruiden which have the addition of 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves. 

**soak your dried fruit in warm water for thirty minutes, then drain and pat dry before folding in the flour