If you've ever visited my kitchen it's hard to miss the fact that I have a "thing" for orange cookware. I am not exactly sure what it is, but orange is hands down my power color! Something about it's fierce boldness, the fact that it's gender neutral, and unabashedly-brazen really just calls to me. I've also heard that the color orange has a way of stimulating the brain, which increases mental activity and often stirs up a sensation of hunger! Years ago when my sister-in-law Elena asked me what color Le Creuset cast iron cookware I'd like as a wedding gift, my obvious answer was FLAME! I'm also a bit of a traditionalist, so I found it difficult to stray from the tried and true og color, and I've been collecting it ever since.
I was recently out scouting for goods in California's Central Valley when I stumbled upon the cutest little orange enameled sauce pot. I flipped it over thinking to myself #vintagelecreuset #inthewild? (Yes, sometimes I think in #hashtags) But no! The maker's mark was one I wasn't familiar with. I could tell by the unique shape and it's heavy cast iron bottom, that this was a high-quality vintage item. It immediately went in my basket and I was so excited to jump online and dig up its history when I got home.
Therefore, I am thrilled to announce that this month's featured item is the VINTAGE DESCOWARE - 3/4 quart enameled cast iron sauce pot in orange flame made in Belgium!
Formerly know as Bruxelles Ware throughout Europe, Descoware was adopted by David E. Sanford who purchased the rights to the porcelain-coated cast iron cookware line around the 1940s and began selling it under his new name in the U.S. Apparently King Baudouin of Belgium was so pleased with the way Descoware helped to reboot the Belgian economy after WWII, that he actually knighted Sanford in 1958!
The King and I aren't the only ones who swoon over this flame orange enamelware, Descoware is widely known as being the preferred cast iron cookware of Julia Child, (even more so than its competitor, Le Creuset!) Julia likely came across the line while studying at Le Cordon Bleu in France in the 1940s. She invested in a few good pots back then, and was still cooking out of them 50 years later. In fact, Julia’s famous Descoware bean pot sits on her stovetop in the Smithsonian museum. Julia often shared on her cooking shows that she was partial to Descoware for being just as efficient, but 35% lighter than other cast iron brands, giving it a decided advantage.
When musing on what recipe would best showcase this saucy pot my mind wandered right to fresh mussels steamed in a Belgian farmhouse ale with parsley and tarragon, served with crispy pommes frites for dipping in the buttery broth! Luckily my dear husband recently scored a job with Great Divide Brewing Co. and we happen to have a fridge full of their year-round favorites including the tart and slightly fruity saison called, Colette. Belgian farm workers have been drinking beers similar to Collette, and cooking out of cast iron literally for centuries, so this pairing was a match straight out of the history books!
Two posts ago I told you all about the wild craft beer weekend we enjoyed in Palm Springs. Well at that event I was introduced to my new pal Brittany, a fellow epicurean and lover of small bites and all things boozy. With our forces combined Brittany and I sought out to prepare the poor man's oysters for this post the way Julia describes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Good thing I had a 1966 early edition at hand!
I developed this recipe myself, but the technique of adding flour to the mussels' soaking liquid is straight from Julia Child. Her theory here is that while soaking, the live mussels feed on the flour and become more plump and succulent, while simultaneously helping to clean and dislodge any sand inside the mollusk. This is a great way to fatten up grocery store mussels.
Fresh Mussels Steamed Open in Colette + Pommes Frites
2-3 lbs. fresh mussels, scrubbed, soaked (see below)
6 oz. Colette (or other dry Belgian style farmhouse ale), about half a can... drink the rest!
3 cloves garlic minced
8 parsley sprigs chopped
4 tarragon sprigs chopped
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons Kerrygold Irish Butter (or other grass-fed high quality butter)
2 large russet potatoes (Belgian frites are traditionally made with a potato called bintjes, but Idaho potatoes will do just fine)
4-5 cups peanut oil (duck fat or beef tallow would be better, but I didn't have any on hand)
various condiments (ketchup, stone ground mustard, homemade mayo, clarified butter)
for the Moules...
Go through the mussels one-by-one and throw out any that aren't firmly shut. If they're open even a crack toss them, they're likely dead, you only want the lives ones. Scrub each mussel under running cold water with a scrubby brush.
Using a small sharp knife clean off any hairs and remove the beard by pulling down and outward toward the hinge end. Here's a video that shows you how.
Fill a large pot or glass container with fresh water, enough to fully submerge the mussels. Whisk in 1/2 cup of flour to the water. Add the mussels and soak in the refrigerator for 1 - 2 hours.
In a medium sauce pot over medium heat, melt the butter, add the herbs, bay leaf and garlic and sauté until fragrant.
Remove the mussels from the refrigerator and dump out the soaking liquid. Run mussels under fresh water and strain.
Add the mussels and half the can of Colette, stir the mixture to combine, cover the pot with a lid.
Occasionally grasp the pot with the lid secured and toss the mussels in the beer broth by jerking back and forth in a sharp motion. This helps the mussels get fully coated with the beer broth.
Steam with the lid covered for 5 minutes, or until the mussels open up.
Serve with melted butter for dipping. I used Black Truffle Epicurean Butter.
for the Pommes Frites...
note: the traditional way to make pommes frites its to double fry them, but I've found if you're short on time one particularly long fry with yield similar results. That is the method I've used below.
Begin by heating up your preferred frying oil on medium high heat in a large heavy-bottomed cast iron dutch oven. You want enough oil so the potatoes are fully submerged. This process takes around 15-20 minutes so be patient, you want the oil to be nice and hot. When hot enough it will look thinner and shimmery, but not smoking.
Scrub the potatoes clean under running water, no need to peel them. Cut the potatoes into long sticks that are about 1/3 inch thickness.
Working in small batches and using heat proof tongs, fry the potatoes in the hot oil. I've found each batch can take 15 - 20 minutes each so be patient. You don't need to jostle them about much or they may break. I like mine crisp on the outside and soft in the middle therefore you must fry them till they are nice and dark, don't worry they're hard to burn.
Remove frites from oil and drain on paper towels or reused paper bags work well too.
Serve with your favorite condiments such as garlic aioli, horseradish, ketchup, stone ground mustard or Sriracha!
photos by Brittany Richards and Rebecca Taylor
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