Why It Works
- Using our standard mussels technique delivers great flavor and texture in a matter of minutes.
- This recipe upgrades store-bought curry paste with a few fresh aromatics for improved flavor.
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 chiles, 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).
Finally, a shower of fresh cilantro leaves and sliced fresh chiles, 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.
8 sprigs cilantro, leaves and stems roughly chopped and reserved separately
4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 small shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried Thai chiles or red chile flakes
1 teaspoon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice from 1 lime (plus additional limes for serving)
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk (do not shake before opening)
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1 tablespoon Thai green curry paste
1 tablespoon brown or palm sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce, plus more to taste
2 pounds mussels (see notes)
1 small Thai or serrano chile, thinly sliced
Combine cilantro stems, half of garlic, half of shallot, coriander seeds, dried chile, lime zest and a small pinch of kosher salt in a mortar and pestle. Pound and grind until a smooth paste is formed.
Scoop 2 tablespoons of thick cream from the top of the can of coconut milk and add to a large saucepan. Add oil and heat over medium heat until shimmering and sputtering. Add remaining garlic and shallots, pounded aromatic paste, and the store-bought (or homemade) curry paste. Cook, stirring and scraping the paste around the bottom of the pan until very aromatic, about 4 minutes. Add remaining contents of coconut milk can, sugar, and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook until rich and aromatic, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with more fish sauce as desired.
Add mussels, stir, cover, and cook, shaking pan constantly and peeking every 30 seconds to stir. As soon as all the mussels are open, stir in chopped cilantro leaves, fresh chile, and lime juice. Serve immediately, with additional limes at the table.
I strongly advise using a good mortar and pestle for making the curry paste, though in a pinch a blender will do. To make in a blender, add aromatics and curry paste to the blender along with a tablespoon of water. Blend on high speed, scraping down sides and adding water as necessary until a paste is formed.
Examine mussels before using. If they're gritty or have lots of beards (it'll look like bits of hair coming out from between their shells), scrub them well under cold water and pull out the beards by grabbing them and pulling towards the hinge-end of the mussels. (More on cleaning and debearding mussels here.) Farm-raised mussels are generally quite clean when they are sold.
When examining, discard cracked mussels or open mussels that don't close when tapped with another mussel.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 3 to 4|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 29g||37%|
|Saturated Fat 21g||104%|
|Total Carbohydrate 19g||7%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||6%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 17mg||85%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|