The Matchmakers: Pairing Mussels With Witbier

November 9, 2023, by Nic Sandery

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The Matchmakers: Pairing Mussels With Witbier

The Matchmakers is a new series created with Molly Rose Brewing that celebrates the art of beer and food pairing. Each month, we'll feature a new combination, exploring different styles and seasonality, with recipes designed to be simple enough for anyone to attempt at home.

Beer and food pairing is something the Molly Rose team knows plenty about as they're on a mission to elevate it to levels unseen in the Aussie beer world outside one-off special events, not least via the Chef's Table offering at their Collingwood venue.

Here, brewery founder and head brewer Nic Sandery and chef Sean Seabrook conjure up a twist on a classic pairing from Europe. You can read more about the concept for The Matchmakers in the launch article.


 

Witbier with mussels is about as classic as food and beer pairings get so, when we released Blanche this month as part of our secret Belgian Spring*, it was a no-brainer.

If you're new to the style, Belgian witbiers are similar to their better known German wheat beer cousins, hefeweizens, in that they are low in bitterness and a high percentage of wheat is used to create a plush and full body.

When it comes to the choice of yeast, however, those in Belgian witbiers lean more heavily into clove-like aromatics and further away from the banana esters often found in hefeweizens [such as Moo's recently-rereleased Hefeweizen, should you want to do a side-by-side comparison of the styles – Editor]. The Belgians, whose brewers are typically more fun and “less pure” than the Germans, love to squeeze some extra character into their beers with whatever they have on hand; in the case of witbiers, the classic move is to use bitter orange peel to add an earthy citrus bitterness, and ground coriander seed for a wonderful citrus spice – all presented with balance, of course.

When looking at food pairings for such beers, the Belgians lean right into the liquid itself and use witbier to cook the mussels along with a good whack of butter and the classic European aromatics – think onions / leeks / shallots along with parsley, thyme and bay leaves. However, we decided to Molly Rose this recipe and have opted for our inclusive (vegan) green curry sauce. 

The vibrant lemongrass, coriander root and galangal play wonderfully with the coriander seed and bitter orange peel of the beer, while the zingy chilli notes and the savoury mussels are balanced by the plush, pillowy wheat malt character. Traditionally very low in bitterness, witbiers are a perfect pairing for spicy food. Just make sure you have a couple in the fridge because the first one always seems to disappear really quickly. 

We absolutely adore this curry paste recipe in-house because it can be used on any protein or vegetable you like; fish, tofu, chicken or even slow cooked lamb. 

As for trying the pairing at home, if you cannot grab a fresh can of Blanche from us (witbiers are best enjoyed as fresh as possible) Slow Lane, in Sydney, and Madocke, on the Gold Coast, make exemplary versions. Hoegaarden is available nationally and, while it is owned by Big Beer, it is made to exacting standards around the world and remains an excellent bottle of beer waiting to be enjoyed with a bowl of mussels cooked any which way.

Anyway, on with the recipe...


Mussels in Green Curry with Barley Bread

Makes: 1.5 Litres of paste /// Serves 2 /// Prep time: 20 mins /// Cooking time: 15 mins

 

Green Curry Paste Ingredients

(Vegan Friendly)

  • 30g Crushed garlic 
  • 200g Diced shallots
  • 15g Chopped green scud chilli 
  • 150g Chopped long green chilli 
  • 200g Chopped coriander stem with root attached 
  • 20g Chopped coriander leaves 
  • 40g Minced galangal 
  • 5g White pepper 
  • 10g Salt 
  • 10 Coriander seeds  
  • 10 Cumin seeds 
  • Zest of 2 limes 

Other Ingredients

  • 400g Mussels debearded with shells cleaned 
  • 500g Green curry paste
  • 750ml Coconut cream 
  • 50g Coconut sugar 
  • Salt and sugar to season 

Method

Sean Seabrook preparing his mussel dish in the Molly Rose Brewing kitchen.

 

Mussel Preparation 

Rinse the mussels in a strainer and check them over. All the mussels should be tightly closed. Discard any mussels with cracked shells. If the shell is open, tap the mussel lightly against the counter; if the shell doesn't close in a few minutes, discard the mussel.

Debeard mussels by looking for a group of short brown strings protruding from the mussel on one side where the two halves of the shell close: this is the "beard." Grip these strings with your fingers or a pair of tweezers and tug gently from side to side. As you tug, the strings will pull out and detach from the shell.

Curry Paste Preparation

Roughly dice all vegetables into smaller pieces and add to a food processor. 

Toast spices in a pan until fragrant. Allow to cool slightly then add to the food processor with the rest of the ingredients. 

Blend the mixture to a fine pulp, adding a little water at a time if it’s too thick.

Cooking Method

1. Sauté curry paste to cook out the raw ingredients.

2. Once fragrant, add coconut cream and sugar. 

3. Simmer for ten minutes then set aside somewhere warm.

4. Cook the mussels in a ripping hot pan with a touch of oil, adding a little water as you toss them in.

5. Immediately cover the pan with the lid and cook with the lid on for four minutes.

6. Shake the pan once or twice during cooking to distribute the mussels.

7. After four minutes, remove the lid and check the mussels. Nearly all the mussels should be open by now. If not, cover and cook for an additional one to two minutes.

8. Discard any mussels that haven't opened after this time.

9. Once mussels have opened, transfer to your serving plate and drown in the green curry.

10. Serve with your favourite crusty bread. We have a housemade barley bread baked with spent grains and Blanche.

* I often have crazy ideas that aren't necessarily commercially viable and thus attempt to execute them in the background without people knowing. Like releasing a clutch of classic Belgian styles in the lead-up to summer...


If you're a fan of beer and food pairing and are reading this in time, Molly Rose are hosting their first Smile, Enjoy! Festival on November 12. It features beers from six great local brewers from SA, Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria paired with a range of dishes. You can read all about it here and buy tickets here.

All articles in The Matchmakers series will appear here.

And if you're after some further reading on wheat beers – and why they've always been a tough sell in Australia despite winning plenty of awards over the years – this deep dive from the Crafty vaults which first ran in 2018 is worth a look.

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AIBA 2024 entries B2
HCH 2024 B
Cryer E
Fermentis Perm- E2