Mussels – you either love them, or you hate them – not many people feel ambivalent about them. Like oysters they have an acquired texture and taste but if you have only ever experienced the shop bought frozen kind I urge you to think again and head down to your local fishmonger. This is one of my favourite dinner party starters or simple suppers– or even “easy peasy holiday lunch” served up with a crusty artisanal loaf of bread to soak up those fragrant Thai curry juices. The difference between a fresh plump juicy mussel and a shrivelled squalid blast frozen one are too many to mention – it’s like instant coffee vs freshly ground….. two very different cups of tea (or coffee 😊) I think you will agree?
Apart from your mussels being incredibly fresh – the next most important thing to note is that they all open during the steaming or cooking process. This is to make sure that the heat can reach the heart of the mollusc to kill all bacteria present. If it doesn’t open – then don’t eat it. However in my experience if you get decent fresh mussels then most of them should open. Don’t be nervous if the shell is encrusted with barnacles as it is usually a good sign and may indicate that the mussel is wild. And those funny looking “beards” can just be pulled up towards the join of the mussel and snapped off.
Why go to all the bother? Well apart from having a super stunning (5*) restaurant quality meal mussels are also very nutritious. They are stuffed to the gills with Vitamin B12 and are among the top foods containing this essential vitamin. And did you know that pearls are not only the birth right of the oyster and that it is possible to find one even in a common mussel? Another good reason to buy and eat them! Pearls have been found in the humble mussel for centuries and last year, some scientists of Oxford University found a colony of Mediterranean mussels containing rare black pearls!! Okay maybe it’s unlikely but interesting point no?
I also love them with onions, garlic, a splash of white wine and a little cream but this Thai style version is just sublime 😊 It does require a decent Thai curry paste – go for yellow if you prefer it mild – or red if you like things spicy but avoid the green – somehow it doesn’t work as well flavour wise. Most prepared Thai curry pastes don’t have any preservatives or MSG and are just all the spices and various ingredient ground up and are perfectly fine to use and add fantastic flavour
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter
1 kg mussels, debearded, cleaned and from a sustainable source
2 tbsp Thai curry paste (Yellow or red depending on your heat preference)
1 tsp groundnut oil or other oil
1 small white onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic peeled and finely sliced
Thumb size piece of ginger sliced
½ a bunch of fresh coriander – leaves picked off the stalks
1 stick of lemongrass cut into 4 pieces (optional if you can’t find it)
1 fresh red chilli finely sliced (leave out if you not a fan of heat)
1 x 400 ml tin of coconut milk
- Wash the mussels thoroughly in the sink and pull the beards off discarding any that aren’t tightly closed.
- In a wide large heavy based saucepan heat a little groundnut oil and soften the onion, garlic, coriander stalks, lemongrass and some of the red chilli for around 5 minutes.
- Add the curry paste & coconut milk and bring to the boil, then add the mussels and cover the pan.
- Steam vigorously for 5 minutes, or until they’ve all opened and are cooked. Discard any unopened mussels.
- Finish it off with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, then sprinkle with coriander leaves and the rest of the chilli.
Serve in large bowls and have a separate larger bowl for the shells 😊. Don’t be embarrassed if you want to slurp the yummy thai style soup from the bottom when you have finished the mussels! Trust me when I say you will make this dish again and again…..