Mussels have turned into one of my go-to foods of late, because believe it or not, they are ridiculously easy to cook and incredibly versatile. They’re a bit like a chameleon, taking cues from the sauce that surrounds them. One of my favorite ways to prepare mussels is in a simple, white wine broth, served with lots of crusty bread for soaking up the sauce. I’ll save that recipe for another time.
I think people who have never prepared mussels at home are a bit scared off by them, probably because of the whole “debearding” thing. Truth is, most of the mussels that you buy these days are farm raised and very clean. Many of them don’t have beards (the fuzzy, wiry thing that keeps them attached to rocks and such) at all, and the ones that do, the beards are usually quite small and come away with a gentle pull. I do keep a small pair of pliers in my kitchen, which can make this task easier, especially if you encounter a stubborn beard.
This recipe is probably my second favorite way to make mussels. With the availability of great ethnic ingredients, like curry pastes and fish sauce, in the supermarket it’s a lot easier than you think.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 14 ounce can regular or light coconut milk
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 to 2 teaspoons fish sauce* (optional)
4 pounds mussels, scrubbed gently and beards removed
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped Thai basil or Italian basil
Heat oil in a large 6 or 8 quart pot and saute onion over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes or until tender. Add red curry paste, stir and cook for about a minute. Add coconut milk, vegetable broth and fish sauce and bring to a boil. Add mussels, cover and cook for about 8 to 10 minutes minutes or just until mussels open, stirring gently once or twice to ensure even cooking. Do NOT overcook. As soon as the mussels open, they are done. When they are just done, they are big and fat and succulent and absolutely delicious! Stir in basil and serve with lime wedges if desired.
Tidbit: If you have a pot with a see through lid, that is perfect for cooking mussels; this will help with cooking to perfection as the mussels opening is your visual clue to when they’re done.
Red Curry Paste (as well as (green, yellow and massaman) are readily available in the ethnic section of your supermarket. Curry paste typically comes in an envelope or jar. Scoop out what you need and keep the rest in the refrigerator for later use.
*If you leave out the fish sauce, add about 1/2 teaspoon salt to the dish.
Good fish sauces are made from a mixture of fish and salt that has been allowed to ferment for 1 year to 18 months. Anchovies are typically used, although some fish sauces are also made from other types of fish or squid. The basic ingredients of a good fish sauce are: fish, water, and salt. Sugar may also be added, but isn’t necessary.