Cooking With Beer: Antwerpse Husselpot
Although I may not be the best cook in the world, I do enjoy finding my way around the kitchen. There’s a huge groan as I task my already sagging shelves with further cookbooks — a burden akin to Atlas. There’s thick collections covering French, Indian, Thai, and Lebanese cuisines. There are books listing myriad recipes for the slow cooker; others highlighting the endless possibilities of the humble sponge. There’s not much room for celebrity chefs and their wares (photography heavy, recipe light) although the occasional book from them captures a theme that interests and inspires. Somehow a book of vegetarian recipes has even found its way into this melting pot.
While there are cuisines out there that bring particular foods to mind (the Indian curry, say, or the Chinese stir-fry) Belgian cuisine is arguably absent from our consciousness. We may think of waffles, mussels, and the classic Belgian frites served up with a dollop of mayonnaise, but what else? Sometimes jokingly characterised as French in style and German in quantity, Belgian cuisine has a style all its own, notably in the way that the cuisine has developed alongside the nation’s historic beer culture. One only has to watch The Burgundies of Belgium, the first episode from Michael Jackson‘s The Beer Hunter to see how food and beer are irrevocably entwined. In Belgium beer is not just an accompaniment but an ingredient.
While visiting Ghent in the summer of 2013, I couldn’t resist popping into a book shop and seeing what was available. It was the usual fare – books on meals, books on desserts, and the occasional cultural crossover by way of Jamie Oliver into Dutch. However, the book that jumped out at me was Ons Kookboek, a newly published hardback that, just shy of 1,000 pages, was a veritable bible of Flemish cuisine. First published in 1927 and with 158 pages it has grown both in size and also with the times. While there are recipes inside covering sauces, soups, cakes, and the like, the ones that invariably interest me are those using beer. Therefore, I hope to explore these recipes and put the results on here.
Flicking through Ons Kookboek (it translates as Our Cookbook, which I suppose precludes any Wallonian claim) I happened across a recipe for Antwerpse Husselpot. As the name suggests, it’s local to Antwerp and hussel, also a local term, means to toss around. The husselpot is therefore a hotchpotch of foods thrown together and cooked in beer. This particular recipe calls for ham hock, pork sausages, potatoes, onions, half a cabbage, and a local beer. Westmalle, Gouden Carolus, Duvel are all valid suggestion, but what better choice than that most local of beers to Antwerp, De Koninck?
The ingredients are: 200g ham hock; 4 pork sausages; 2 onions; 1 bottle of beer; 2 stock cubes; 750g potatoes; 1/2 Savoy cabbage; 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves; butter, salt, and pepper; and some mustard to serve.
Cut the ham hock into small cubes and season with salt, pepper, and the ground cloves. Cut the onion into rings. Peel and wash the potatoes, then cut into pieces. Cut the cabbage into thin strips. Bring a pot of water to the boil, poach the sausages for five minutes, retrieve them, and then dab dry. Heat the butter in a pan and then brown both the sausages and hock for ten minutes before adding the onions. Remove the sausages, cut into 2cm pieces, and then return to the pan. Pour in half of the beer (the rest goes to the chef!), and add both stock cubes and cabbage strips and cook on a low heat for twenty minutes. During those twenty minutes, bring a pot of lightly-salted water to the boil and simmer the potato pieces. Once done, add the potatoes to rest of the ingredients and shake it all together. Season with salt and pepper and serve with some mustard and, of course, a beer. Preferably the same as used in the cooking.
Given that it’s just a pot of ingredients thrown together, presenting it in any refined way is going to be an issue. So I didn’t bother. However, for colour more than anything, I served it in one of the cabbage leaves and let the husselpot spill out. Taste should be what matters, though, and it tasted great. Potatoes were soft and there was some salinity to the hock. The sweetness of the ground cloves came through and, underscoring it all, was a light fruitiness from the beer. As I moved between glass and fork, washing down each bite with some De Koninck, I could easily see myself making this again.
January 1, 2014