How to Make Steamed Mussels With a Thai Curry-Coconut Broth

The Food Lab

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

Overhead shot of mussels steamed in Thai curry/coconut broth, with lime halves

Mussels cooked in a spicy and aromatic coconut broth with Thai curry flavors. [Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

I've gone on record saying that mussels are the easiest choose-your-own-adventure one-pot meal around, and I intend to prove it to you.

Classic moules marinières are all well and good, but what if we want something, oh, a little more interesting? Depending on the ingredients you add—the base aromatics, the cooking liquid, the enriching agents, and the finishing aromatics—you can create a whole new flavor profile, inspired by a completely distinct cooking tradition, in record time.

This version draws on flavors from central Thailand to create a dish whose basic process is pretty much identical to the French version, but whose results are entirely different. All it takes is curry paste, coconut milk, and a few other odds and ends.

Since mussels cook so darn fast anyway, I like to take a little bit of extra time to either make my own curry paste from scratch—using a good mortar and pestle, this takes about 10 minutes—or, at the very least, doctor up some store-bought green curry paste with a few fresh herbs and spices. In this case, I used garlic, cilantro stems (I saved the leaves for garnish), lime zest, dried Thai chilies, and whole coriander seeds.

The rest of the recipe follows my standard mussel technique almost to a T.

I start by heating up some of the skimmed fat from the top of a can of coconut milk, along with a little bit of oil. To this I add my basic aromatics: shallots and sliced garlic, along with a big spoonful of the curry paste.

Once those aromatics have softened and released their flavor, I add my base liquid. Coconut milk forms the bulk of it, along with a few big dashes of fish sauce and a touch of sugar to balance out the heat from the curry paste.

As soon as it comes to a boil, the mussels go in and the lid goes down. I cook the mussels just long enough to let them open (nobody likes an overcooked mussel, except perhaps my dog, who seems to like overcooked anything).

Bowl of mussels steamed in a Thai curry/coconut milk broth, next to a bowl of rice

Finally, a shower of fresh cilantro leaves and sliced fresh chilies, along with a squeeze of lime juice, finish it off. This is the kind of dish that just demands plenty of sticky rice for sopping up the briny, sweet, hot, aromatic juices, though a spoon (or just lifting the darned bowl straight up to your lips) will serve you nicely as well.