Travelling is one of the best ways to try new food. Yes, the global aisles of supermarkets can introduce you to certain unexplored and new flavours, as can a trip to a street food market, but hopping on a plane and eating like locals surrounded by locals is really where it’s at and there’s no greater alternative.
Sometimes one meal or one dish can truly define a place, a city, a holiday, an experience. For us, there’s one taste that we dream of from Brussels. Yes, triple-cooked frites and fluffy sweet-topped gaufres are up there, but the flash fried prawns in chilli and herbs at De Noordzee/Mer Du Nord trumps both. We love it so much, we’ve recreated it at home and want to share it with you below…
As you already know, we’re so in love with the Belgian capital – which we have lovingly dubbed ‘our Paris’. It’s our version of the idealised, romantic image people have of Paris. Brussels is smaller but perfectly formed and somewhat lesser-spotted.
Naturally, we’ve eaten our way around the city we love. We while away every trip with a roster of restaurants, hours spent lazing in cafes and bars, diving into as many dishes, drinks, street food and markets as we can. We’ve gone to Noordzee on every single trip we’ve taken to Brussels, and wrote a feature on it earlier this year.
Plump, coral-coloured prawns that taste like they were swimming in the chilly North Sea that morning, now wrapped in chilli, garlic and herbs and paddling in a wine-sweet broth. Absolute heaven.
We certainly have the motivation, but not the means, to hop on the Eurostar every single weekend for a plate of these babies, so in failing that we’ve re-worked it at home to try get as close as possible to that iconic taste – a dash of sharp, good-quality mayonnaise or tartare sauce on the side, a tuft of designer leaves and the very much not optional chilled glass of white. Chunks of baguette on the side to mop up the mayo and the sauce is also an absolute must.
What we sadly cannot recreate is the atmosphere, which really is a huge amount of our experience. This is an al fresco dish at its core. It’s true what Nigel Slater once said: fresh air is the greatest seasoning of all. Try this at home first… then book a trip to the Belgian capital for the real thing. We will have you hooked.
Pop along to a local fishmonger and get the freshest prawns possible – if they’re from the North Sea, all the more authentic! Ensure they’re peeled and deveined to save you time preparing the dish, as this cooks in an absolute flash and leaves you all the time in the world to savour each forkful.
Noordzee/Mer Du Nord Crevettes (Prawns)
- 200g prawns, washed, de-shelled and de-veined
- Good quality olive oil
- 1/4 tsp caraway seeds
- 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 tsp herbs de provence
- 1/2 tsp Chilli flakes
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Dry white wine or vermouth, one small glass (175ml)
- 1 shallot (optional)
- 1 garlic clove
1. Grind the caraway seeds with a pestle and mortar and combine with the rest of the herbs and chilli.
2. Very finely dice the onion and cook on a low heat for roughly five minutes until soft and translucent, halfway through grate in a clove of garlic and cook out.
3. Decant the onion and garlic mixture to a bowl and clean off the pan. Turning the heat medium-high, allow the pan to get hot and drizzle in some oil before tumbling in the prawns.
4. Don’t move the prawns as you want them to almost caramelise and char, give them a toss once or twice during cooking but aside from that leave them alone. They will cook in under two minutes.
5. Sprinkle in the herbs and spices about a minute in, thirty seconds before taking the pan off the heat turn to high and splash in the wine whilst giving everything a good toss to incorporate. Re-introduce the onion and garlic mixture.
6. Serve immediately with leaves, good quality organic mayonnaise and a fat wedge of lemon. Pile crusty baguette slices on the side too, if you like.
7. Pour yourself a large glass of chilled wine, you deserve it.
These are at their most fabulous on a balmy Summer’s evening, but would be a fantastic Christmas starter, casual and quick-cook Autumnal supper or picnic dish eaten cold with bread and wine. The beauty of this is in its simplicity.
For more on this fantastic foodie spot you can visit their site; we love local Brussels blogger Sandy feature on Noordzee on S Marks The Spot too.