Thursday, April 03, 2008


The Northern Classics: A Vicarious Spectator's Guide, Part II

Narrow roads, cobbles, rain, wind. Riding in the gutter for kilometers on end, throwing elbows to get into position before every climb. The classics are the stomping grounds of the hardest of the hard.

And nobody’s harder than Martha Stewart.

After all, Johan Museeuw may have overcome a shattered kneecap and a motorcycle wreck on the way to collecting three titles apiece in both the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, but even the mighty Lion of Flanders has never done hard time (yet) or ruled a multimedia empire with an iron fist. And I hear his apple popovers are crap.

Sometimes we need to look outside the sport to get the vital information we need, so who better than Stewart, the Cougar of Westport, to step in as a culinary guide to the realm of the tough? Don’t let her usual persnickety treats fool you – if you dig around enough, she provides some solid takes on favorites from the land of the kasseien.

In Part 1 of our classics viewers' guide, we reviewed proper beverage selections for classics viewing. But even drinking regular strength beer as opposed to 10% alcohol-by-volume monk fuel, you’ll need something solid to soak up the booze. Again, we suggest you go native by treating yourself to a generous helping of traditional Belgian frites while you take in the heroics of the north. And again, we suggest you shrug off the unfair social judgement associated with drinking beer and eating fries at 10am.

Now, anyone can run down to McDonalds for a quick frites fix, but as with cycling itself, you’ll get a better experience if you put in a bit of work ahead of the big event. For those willing to invest the effort, Martha has generously provided us with the traditional Belgian recipe for both the frites and the accompanying mayo.

Making the frites is a little involved, with some time required to soak the cut potatoes and double-fry each batch. Though fry-o-lator ownership and a cycling habit are an unnatural combination, a purpose-built machine can make things a bit easier. However, a pot of oil and an appropriate thermometer can work just as well. Making the mayo is pretty easy, and it’s a more flavorful alternative to the Hellmann’s if you’re undeterred by seeing what mayonnaise is made of and you can get past the idea of consuming mayonnaise you’ve made yourself.

Both of the referenced formulas are pretty tried and tested. I’ve followed these very instructions several times with good results, but they’re pretty similar to every other recipe you’ll find for the same things. My only recommendations are to go long on the cooking time for the second frying, cut the fries a bit thinner than recommended, don’t skip the soaking in the interest of time, and pay attention to the oil temperature. Also, leave yourself enough time to get everything done – you can keep the frites warm in an oven if necessary, and it’s not a process that goes well when rushed. Other than that, just don’t burn yourself with the oil or poison yourself with the mayonnaise and you should be all set.

Tradition dictates that you eat your frites from a paper cone, blob of mayo on the top, with a tiny wooden fork. We’re usually sticklers for tradition, but when you’re eating them over your own living room carpet rather than the work-polished stone of a public square, a plate or bowl will do just fine.

Bonus Service Course Training Tip: Plan on riding an extra 70 kilometers or so on Monday to offset your little Sunday celebration, and throw the fry-o-lator out immediately following Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It’s for your own good.


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How 'bout a huge bowl of mussels a la Brussels, steamed up in an onion & beer broth. Eat the mussels, drink some beer, eat some frites, then down the mussel/onion/beer broth. It's a working man's delicacy, and I know the Belgians claim the dish as their own, though the Nederdeutsch of Duesseldorf, Duisburg, Krefeld ad the surrounding environs do a pretty credible version as bar food, and I've had the same thing in Arheim with no ill effects.

For that matter, you could hit up Brasserie Beck in D.C. for the same dish... but I've never seen Jupiler on the menu there.
Now I'm set for Sunday. Thanks!
Hey Ryan,

Just want to leave a note to say that I am LOVING your blog. The writing is excellent--at least to this engineer. It's one of the first things I sort out and read from the deluge of feeds coming into my RSS reader. Keep up the good work.
Jim -- Certainly nothing wrong with your suggestion. The first time I did the full Belgian meal you describe for my wife, she ended up only eating the frites. What, I can't be trusted to cook shellfish and make mayonnaise? I'd like to note that I'm still alive, despite her predictions. Brasserie Beck is a good pick. There's a place up in Olney that's good, too. Mannequin Pis, maybe?

New Fan - happy to help.

John -- Great to hear from you, and thanks for the good words.
And don't forget the new addition to DC Belgian food - Marvin's @14th and U. This veg can't speak to the mussels, but the frites were pretty damn good.
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