Mussels are the perfect choice for a weeknight meal. They’re a terrific source of low-fat protein, they’re inexpensive, they cook up quickly, and as they cook, they automatically generate tasty juices to whichever sauce you’re making. Also, farmed mussels are pretty easy to clean. You just toss them briefly in several changes of fresh water and pull off any strings (also known as “beards”) hanging from the hinge of the shell. Finally, bonus, if you buy farmed mussels — the most common variety available at stores today — you’ll have chosen a sustainable seafood. Here I’ve dressed the mussels in green for St. Patrick’s Day with a garnish of chopped scallions and cilantro.
Coloring aside, the flavoring of this dish, consisting of just six ingredients, is Thai. The key actors are coconut milk and Thai curry paste, which are combined. (Don’t confuse coconut milk with cream of coconut, which has lots of sugar added.) I suggest using light coconut milk because it’s lighter in calories, but you’re welcome to opt for the full-fat version. Thai curry paste, now available in the international aisle of most supermarkets, is totally unrelated to the curry spice mix that you find in Indian or Pakistani food. It is, as advertised, a mixture of typical Thai ingredients: lemon grass, galangal (similar to ginger), chiles and makrut lime leaves. When added to a liquid, it makes an instant flavorful sauce. Once the jar is opened it needs to be kept in the refrigerator, but it lasts a long time and you can use it as the base of a sauce for other seafood dishes or for chicken or meat.
So how about trying this six-ingredient recipe the next time you want to mix it up a bit on a weeknight? You’ll have a delicious dinner on the table in just 30 minutes. And don’t forget to put some bread on the side. It’s just the thing to sop up all those juices.
Steamed Mussels in Spicy Coconut Broth
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1/4 cup Thai green curry paste
One 13.5-ounce can light coconut milk
3 pounds farmed mussels, scrubbed
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice or to taste
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
In a large saucepan or stockpot whisk together the curry paste and coconut milk. Add the mussels, cover tightly and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Stir often. After a few minutes, the mussels should start to open. Remove them as they open and transfer them to a large bowl. If any mussels do not open, discard them. Add the lime juice to the saucepan and return all of the opened mussels to the saucepan and cook for a minute or two, stirring, to reheat them.
To serve, transfer the mussels to each of four soup plates. Pour one-fourth of the cooking liquid over each portion and sprinkle one-fourth of the scallions and cilantro over each one.
Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows including “Cooking Live.”