Curried Coconut Mussels

Happy New Year, everybody!!

We hope that you all bid adieu to 2010 in style and welcomed the fresh air of 2011 surrounded by friends and loved ones.  We certainly did, although this holiday was as challenging as the rest of 2010 for us.  Our first Christmas as an Official Married Couple, and Mike spent most of it working while I went swanning off to British Columbia to be with family and spend some time with my delicious nephews (who are growing like weeds).  That’s okay though, it meant that we got to do second Christmas as soon as I returned, tumbling quickly into a luxurious and decadent New Years celebration featuring a lot of butter, a lot of wine, and a whole lot of kissing.  What more could you ask for?

After the holidays I always need a bit of a break…and so do my liver and pancreas.  Turkey smothered in gravy, buttery mashed potatoes and creamy trifles are delicious, but after two weeks of indulgence my body is a quivering wreck that’s just begging for celery sticks.  Moreover, having acquired over 5 lbs of delicious and moist leftover turkey meat, I think I’ve hit the wall on turkey sandwiches, curried turkey and quinoa, turkey casseroles and turkey pot pie.  I need to take a break from fowl for a while, and it’s time to gradually start incorporating vegetables back into my diet before I am indistinguishable from the bowl of jiggly beige gravy that’s still left in our fridge.

For a quick, light weeknight meal, seafood is tops in my book. After so much time away from the blog and only poking about periodically in the kitchen (the Pizzaville delivery man has become part of our adopted family), I needed something fast and easy to coax my cooking sea-legs back to life.  Enter mussels, which I could eat three times a week and not get bored of, and which I realized that I cook far more often than I post about.  Mussels are one of my go-to dishes when I’m feeling lazy or uninspired.  They can be elegant and sophisticated or cheaply made with pantry staples when the stores are all closed.  The flavorings can be as simple or complex and layered as you like; mussels will take everything you give them and come begging back for more.  Combined with the fact that they’re cheap and easy, I see nothing to dislike in this simpering flirt of the mollusk community.

This iteration of mussels is based loosely on some of my favorite Thai coconut curried mussels.  I enjoy them largely because the Thai have a delightfully sneaky way of plumping their dishes with invisible vegetables which you don’t notice until it’s too late and the V-8 you drank at breakfast becomes totally unnecessary.  I like a bit of culinary diabolism.  Thai people? Keep up the good work.

Curried Coconut Mussels

Serves 4 as a light meal with salad, or 2 ravenous Thai tigers

  • 3.5 lb (1.5 kg) fresh mussels
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 large sweet onion *
  • 4 fat cloves garlic
  • 1.5″ knob ginger
  • 2 tsp coriander seed, optional
  • 3 red finger chilis
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 can (14 oz/400 ml) coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup white wine OR water
  • 2 dried lime leaves **
  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp cane or brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp turmeric powder
  • 1.5 tsp curry powder
  • 1 large tomato ***
  • 2 green onions
  • 2 limes
  • small bunch fresh basil (1/4 cup coarsely chopped)
  • small bunch fresh cilantro (1/4 cup coarsely chopped)
  • Salt to taste, optional

* If you prefer, substitute 1 small yellow cooking onion.

** Fresh or dried lime leaves can be difficult to find.  If that’s the case for you, substitute a plump stalk of lemon grass that you have chopped into 4 chunks and then slice each in half vertically.  Remove the lemon grass before serving.

*** Winter tomatoes are somewhat less than charming, even if you get a local hothouse variety.  That said, you’re not making a tomato sandwich or caprese salad here, and the styrofoam texture and mild taste of a sub-par tomato will still be fine in this dish.

Peel and finely chop the onion.  Peel and finely mince the garlic, ginger and chili peppers.  If you don’t like your food too spicy, remove the ribs and seeds from the chili before you mince.

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven set over medium heat. Before you start to saute anything, prep the rest of the vegetables.  Peel and thinly slice the carrots into medallions less than 1/8″ thick.  Seed the red bell pepper and chop it into a fairly large dice of about 1/2″ cubes.  Core the stem end from the tomato and slice it vertically into 1/4″ wedges.

When the oil is shimmering, add the coriander seeds (if using) and let them sizzle for about 20 seconds until they start to pop.  Add the onion, garlic and ginger and saute until the onion is soft and translucent. Be sure to stir and monitor the mixture so that the garlic does not burn or brown.

When the onion is soft, add the chili and let this cook for another minute.

Add the carrots and bell pepper and saute for a minute until the carrots just barely start to soften.  Remember that they’ll continue cooking in the sauce, so a bit of tough love won’t hurt them right now.

Pour in the coconut milk and white wine (or water).  Add the fish sauce, sugar, lime leaves, turmeric and curry powder.  Bring this almost to a boil (there should be steam and small, irregular bubbles).

Clean and de-beard the mussels if this has not already been done.  Discard any mussels which are open and do not close if you rap them lightly with your knuckle.  Stir the cleaned and healthy mussels in to coat them with the curried coconut broth.  Lay the sliced tomato on top so that they can soften but without fully cooking or reducing significantly.

Seal the pot with a tight fitting lid and turn the heat down to medium-low.  Let the mussels steam for approximately 6-8 minutes, shaking the pan once on the stove, while the lid is on, to ensure that nothing burns on the bottom.

Take the mussels off the heat when the majority are open (it’s okay to peek a bit and stir after 6-7 minutes). Discard any mussels that have decided to stay closed and hope for the best, because their time came well before they hit the pot.  Be sure not to overcook the mussels or they’ll get tough and rubbery instead of tender and sweet.

Squeeze in the juice of 1.5 limes and coarsely chop the green onions and fresh herbs before stirring them into the mix as well. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning to fit your taste.  If you like it a bit saltier, consider adding a splash more fish sauce instead of kosher salt.  If you like it a bit sweeter, sprinkle on a bit more sugar and an extra squeeze of lime.  Discard the lime leaves (or lemon grass stalks).

Serve the mussels immediately in big bowls with plenty of that creamy broth.  To sop it up, you may consider the traditional side of plain steamed white rice, or pile some nice crusty bread on the side.   Garnish the bowls with slices of the remaining half lime.

The fresh cilantro and basil are really key to this dish, adding a freshness that cuts through the rich and slightly spicy coconut curry broth.

Aromatic with Thai flavors, these coconut curried mussel recipe is one of the most common ways that we prepare my favorite bivalve, and it’s a great way to jump start that New Years resolution to make more home-cooked meals!

  • Hellcat13

    …who has leftover gravy??

    • Mike

      You have no idea the gravy output of my family dinners. We could supply nations.

  • lo

    I was just about to comment on the lovely nature of these mussels… but that comment about supplying nations with gravy has me in stitches.

    Good gravy is a thing to be treasured. Sounds like some poutine is in your future 😉

  • Seth S.

    I have been stalking your food blog for quite a while now. I love it….. and have great success with a # of your recipes….The soft Pretzels were a huge smash!

    You have inspired me to start my own this new year as a new years resolution… although I think its quite the task.

    I have a question….Do you get most of your inspiration from other variations that you have had or is most everything original….?? I guess when it comes to food things are usually a blend…….

    • Tina

      Seth – thank you kindly for the comment!! So glad to hear that you enjoy the site and have tried (and liked) some of the recipes; that totally made my day!

      Starting a blog is so exciting. I love the initial design stage, figuring out a template/look and finding your style. Mike does most of the ‘plumbing’ on ours (thank god) but if you didn’t want to create a site using a template, blogspot is really user friendly.

      For inspiration, I think I’m like most people in that I get inspiration from EVERYWHERE! The food we eat at restaurants or friends’ houses plays a big role, but I also have an unholy addiction to cookbooks which I flip through like magazines all the time. I can count on one hand the recipes I’ve followed in the last year (Martha Stewart’s mac’n’cheese, Breadbaker’s Apprentice brioche rolls, America’s Test Kitchen pie crust, traditional Finnish pulla), but find a lot of inspiration from the combination of flavors or a particular technique. There are so many fabulous food blogs out there that it’s fun to find inspiration from peers as well!

      Good luck and happy blogging!!!

      • Seth S.

        In the design stage did you play around a lot with the word press templates before you found one you liked?

        I was thinking……. I would love to see a post on your favorite kitchen essentials! ie…. specific appliances….. or maby just go to items that you cannot be without. hmmm??

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  • Rose

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for a yummy non-poultry recipe. My mouth is watering as I type….and I kinda thought my shrimp dinner was great toight. Your recipe will be on my weekend hit parade!
    Happy New Year Choosy B!

  • Eat Drink Smile

    Seafoods are always great and healthy! Mussels with only 86 calories and 3.7 g carbohydrate in every 100 g raw portion, mussels are a nutrient-dense food that can fit into most healthy diets. Kudos to Thais for this incredibly healthy recipe.
    Heep posting!