Unrivaled fish and chips at Bia Mara, Brussels

Fried sea bass with truffle mayo and seaweed salted chips

Bia Mara is a neat little fish and chips place near the sleezier streets around Boulevard Anspach. They have a simple concept: doing cheap, sustainable fish and chips, and doing it really well. Having visited a couple of times, I’ve found the weekly special at 12€ to be innovative and tasty, even though one would think fish and chips is a rather basic, and perhaps limited, concept. Recent combinations have included Korean Style Ling with hot red pepper crust and kinchee sauce, Rogan Josh crusted special with lime, mint and coriander sauce, and Malaysian Special Sea Bream with sambal and tamarind sauce. Last time I visited, we tried sea bass with with truffle mayo, and it was just the perfect thing for a slightly hungover sunny stroll on town. Their penchant for curry feels like a true reflection of modern cuisine from the british Isles (although I’ll include the caveat that this in my opinion is true for England – I can’t speak for the quality or popoularity of Irish curry houses).

Curry salmon

The owner is incredibly friendly in that nice, Irish way, and makes me wish I had that special skill of making effortless small talk. The menu changes weekly depending on what fish is available, and great care seems to be taken to ensure that the fish is sourced by sustainable methods. In addition to this, they serve Pellegrino and a beer of the week from a local Belgian brewery. On Sundays, they serve Brunch from 12-16 which consists of their weekly special and a bloody mary. So many good things! Seven meatballs out of ten.

Bia Mara can be found here on the map:

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Victor’s perfect tortilla

Potato and chorizo tortilla

In a few weeks, my MESC brother and bästis in Brussels is leaving Europe for Dubai, to start a life hopefully not too void of cheese. This post is dedicated to him and one of his Spanish dishes: a perfect tortilla. Before trying this potato tortilla I never liked Spanish omelette (as we call it in Sweden), but this is so perfectly creamy and simple that you can’t help but help yourself, several times. In this hot weather, it’s also perfect picnic material, not to mention a good destination for various things you find in the fridge. Key for a successful tortilla is a good pan, so that you can flip it easily and it cooks without sticking too much. You can put anything in it, but my favourite is either simply potato or potato and chorizo. The recipe below is for potato and chorizo.

Chopped chorizo

You need:

  • 6 eggs
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into slices
  • 1/4 chorizo ring, chopped very coarsely
  • Olive oil (Jamie Oliver-amounts)
  • 2 medium onions
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Fried chorizo and onion

Start by chopping the onions, and frying them in large amounts of olive oil. Stir often so that you can maintain a high heat. When the onions are frying, chop the chorizo, and add it to the pan once the onion has browned properly. Add some more oil, and fry for a few more minutes. Remove the onion and chorizo from the pan and put to a side. Start frying the potatoes, again in large amounts of olive oil. The potatoes should be cooked when you starting putting together the tortilla, so this part can take up to 25 minutes (alternatively, have two pans going to save time – there’s no reason why the onions and chorizo cool down on the side other than that our messy nine-person house has three broken hoovers but only one decent frying-pan). The potatoes are done when they break easily under the pressure of a wooden spoon or something else blunt.

Potato and eggs

Whisk together the eggs with some salt and pepper, and add the chorizo and onions, as well as the fried potatoes. Pour this into the pan, again preluded by a splash of olive oil, and cook on a medium heat. Both the heat from the pan and the potatoes will make the eggs cook, so this part is pretty quick. Stir the mixture after about one minute, so that the cooked bits from the bottom are dispersed around the tortilla.

Cooking the tortilla

After a few minutes, once the bottom and the sides start setting, it’s time to turn the tortilla. This can be a bit tricky. Take a large plate, put on top of the frying pan, and hold it very firmly against the pan as you turn it upside down so that the chorizo lands on the plate. Slide it from the plate back into the pan onto the uncooked side, and cook it for another few minutes. Here’s it’s crucial to be careful that it’s not cooking for too long – you want it to be creamy inside, and not too brown on the outside. The flipping process should look something like this (although smiling like an idiot is not obligatory):

Turning tortillaTurning tortilla

Turning tortillaTurning tortilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tortilla is ready to eat straight away, but it doesn’t suffer from cooling down a bit. If you are taking it to the park it’s important to let it cool before you pack it up, as it can get a bit soggy otherwise. It’s delicious with a good tomato and basil salad.

Tortilla and tomato salad


Fried potato cakes with caviar (Rösti med kaviar)

Rösti

Working full-time leaves far too little time left over to cook. In my utopia we’d all be working three hours a day, followed by two hours food shopping at a cheaper version of Borough market, before cooking all afternoon and eating all evening. But before that’s been turned into a workable economic model, we have to make do with simpler things, like Swedish rösti with caviar. Quite a light supper, it’s a perfect snack before going out (don’t worry, that kebab in the wee hours of the morning will keep you from starving).

Making rösti is very easy, and you can take it quite far from its humble origins if you top it with fresh Swedish ingredients like gräddfil (sour cream), dill, spring onion and caviar. What with IKEA’s food empire being spread all over the world, you can buy Swedish caviar very cheaply. This isn’t fancy caviar in any sense (it comes from the herring), but it’s still salty and delicious.

You need:

  • 1 tub of sour cream (creme fraiche also cuts it, but best of all would be gräddfil)
  • Fresh dill, finely chopped
  • Fresh spring onion or chives, chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 6 large potatoes, grated
  • 1 egg
  • A selection of caviar glasses – theses are about €1.50 in IKEA. They only have red, black and vegan caviar, so if you want nicer stuff find a Swedish shop where they will have Stenbitsrom or Kalixlöjrom.

Caviar

Start by chopping and frying half of the onion on a low heat. Peel and grate the potatoes, and mix in the onion. Also add half of the dill, the egg and salt to taste. Form the mix into flat rounds, about half a centimeter thick, and carefully place in a non-stick pan, on a medium heat with plenty of oil and butter (a mix makes for the best flavour – it’s not meant to be a health meal). Flatten the cakes with a spatula once they are in the pan, as that makes them stick together better. Let them fry about 4 minutes on each side, until they are golden. Carefully lift them out of the pan onto kitchen roll, and keep frying these until you’ve used up all of the mix.

Rösti ingredients

An easy way of eating them is to just place all the condiments on the table and let everyone make their own caviar creation. However, if you want it a bit nicer, place two rösti on each plate, add some of the chopped onion, a generous dollop of creme fraiche, the caviar of your choice, and top with chives, dill and spring onion. Serve with cold, light beer, and vodka if you are going out.


Recipe – My New Go-To Meal

These have been three very busy weeks which saw me travelling to three different countries in too little time and left me with no time to think about food or even cook it. When I finally had one whole day at home I craved some easy, simple food. And with this came the discovery that my new flat comes attached with a neighbourhood herb garden…yes that exists in real life!

This amazing herb patch is full of parsley, rocket, coriander and any other herbs you can imagine. It got me longing for really simple and flavourful dishes, full of chopped herbs and butter. I combined all this with the available ingredients in my kitchen: chicken thighs, avocado, baby potatoes and bread. Out of this was born chicken with warm ‘salad’.

All you need for this dish is:

  • Chicken Thighs (also works with other parts of the chicken but I find the thighs tastier)
  • Baby potatoes (or any other good salad potato)
  • Old bread, torn in small pieces (optional)
  • French Mustard
  • Avocado, chopped
  • A handful of chopped herbs (I had fresh rosemary, fresh thyme and parsley)
  • Chopped rocket (the spiciest the better)
  • Butter
  • Salt and Pepper

Begin by parboiling the potatoes in salted water. Then combine half of the chopped herbs with the mustard and marinate the chicken in that mixture for an hour or so (you can also do without the marinade if you are in a hurry, just brush the chicken with the mixture and cook straightaway) and then fry it in butter, just to crisp up the skin. Combine the potatoes, the bread and the chicken in an oven proof dish (I use a dutch oven, its quicker), season it, and mix the ingredients well so all the flavours really combine. Cook in the oven until the chicken falls off the bone and then mix everything with the avocado and the rest of the fresh herbs and the chopped rocket. Taste and season if needed. Voila!


Review – Frites at Frit Flagey, Brussels

I went flat hunting in Brussels last weekend, and my first food experience over there were the best frites I’ve had my entire life. (You have to discount times of hungry drunken euphoria over soggy chips, because as we all know, hunger is the best sauce, and I’m pretty sure alcohol only adds to that truth). The Belgians are of course renowned for their chips, and it is fully possible that I will sample even better ones during my stay. But these were beautiful: golden, handcut in odd sizes, in large shapely cuts, balancing perfectly between being shoestring and a chip shop chips. They must have been double fried because every single chip was perfectly crispy on the outside, but soft and velvety inside.

In typical Belgian chip stand fashion, you have a confusing array of sauces to chose between. As you can see above, you have a slightly wider choice than ketchup, mayo and brown sauce. For me, this choice is always simple: pick Andalouse. Andalouse is the best chip sauce ever, and I’ve had it sneakily imported into the UK for the last four years. I even composed a special bacon and cabbage sandwich around it (which may see the light of this blog on a rainy day…). The base of Andalouse is mayonnaise, but then imagine smoky, spicy paprika and chili, and soft hints of curry, and you are kind of on the right track. But words don’t do it justice: you have to sample it yourself.

Frites Flagey is an excellent place to try it, and for €2.60 you get a large cone of frites with your choice of sauce. Perfect street food, especially on a crisp autumn day. And don’t feel guilt over eating just chips – it’s one of Belgium’s national treasures.


Comforting potato and leek soup

Since I’ve been struck with the season’s first cold, I’ve perked myself up with soup. When I was living with eight other students in Birmingham, I used to get the biggest pan in our house, loads of leek and some leftover potatoes and try make enough of this soup to last me a week. But since there were eight of us, and because this soup is so moorish, all was usually gone by the end of the day. Preparing a weekly radio show with my friend Ella, we used to get too impatient to heat up the leftovers and just eat it cold and thick in mugs (admittedly, that could have to do with the amount of wine being involved with weekly radio planning, but I’d rather blame the deliciousness of the soup).

You need:

  • 2-4 leeks, depending on size. If possible, get whole ones that aren’t trimmed because the green part of the leeks is perfectly tasty and its more economical using all of them.
  • 2 large potatoes (The leek gives most of the flavour for this soup, and even if the nutmeg helps bringing out the best of the potato flavours, think of it as a thickening agent rather than main component. If in doubt, always add more leek than potato)
  • 2 cubes of veal stock (this can be exchanged for vegetarian to make the soup a veggie dish, or chicken if you’re struggling to find veal. But veal is ace.)
  • 1 tub of creme fraiche (to taste, one half is also enough)
  • Cumin seeds
  • Nutmeg
  • Worcestershire sauce (or Henderson’s Relish, which is what I always used in Brum)
  • Salt
  • Chili flakes
  • Cheese-grilled bread (optional)
  • Butter

Trim your leeks by cutting off any shabby-lookig bits on the tops, slicing them lengthwise and rinsing in cold water. Then slice them thinly all the way up to the dark green bits. Fry in a large, wide bottomed pan in a generous chunk of butter on medium heat whilst you peel and roughly chop your potatoes. Put your kettle on and boil about 1 litre of water. Add the potatoes into the softened leeks, stir an let fry for a minute or so. Then add your boiling water and the crushed stock cubes. Let simmer under a lid for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes has softened entirely and can be crushed easily with a potato masher. An english-style potato masher is best tool for this, as it gives you a rougher texture than a blender.

Once you’ve crushed away for a minute or so, add the creme fraiche and start seasoning (whilst still on a low heat). Add a few chili flakes, a few generous splashes of Worcestershire sauce, a few sprinklings of ground nutmeg and some cumin seeds. Also add some salt if the stock hasn’t done that job for you. Take the soup off to cool a bit whilst you put your bread under the grill (if you sprinkle the cheese with paprika it starts grilling quicker and looks nicer). Enjoy.


Potato, Beet’s Leaves and Poached Egg Salad

This recipe came out of necessity..I had just bought loads of beetroot and being a poor student felt bad about discarding the leaves…So I went online and found out you can just use them as you would use spinach. I had some salad potatoes that were starting to sprout and one egg left in my fridge so I decided to experiment with these three ingredients. It turned out amazing!

You will need (for one person):

  • 5-6 small salad potatoes
  • 2 handfuls of beet leaves
  • 1 egg
  • 1 shallot or half a red onion (finely chopped).
  • 1 clove of garlic (finely chopped).
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Coriander or Parsley

1. Start by cooking the potatoes with the chopped garlic. I cooked mine in a cast iron pan but you can roast them in the oven too, whatever is easiest.

2. When the potatoes are almost cooked heat a frying pan with some olive oil and fry the shallots.

3. When they start browning add the beets’ leaves and cook until they become soft (add a little bit of water if needed).

4. Take the potatoes and the beets’ leaves from the heat and put them in a salad bowl with some olive oil, some salt and pepper and some fresh herbs (I used coriander, but parsley would work great too). You can also add some balsamic vinegar or some lemon juice if you like.

5. Poach the egg. The easiest way to do this is to boil some water, add a tablespoon of vinegar to it (helps the whites stay together) and slide it from a bowl into simmering water. Take it out after three minutes, taking care not to break the yolk.

6. Serve the salad into a bowl or plate, add the egg on top. Break the egg and enjoy!