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A delicate balance of New England shellfish, world flavors: curried mussels with cilantro

Curry powder, garlic, shallots, coconut milk, wine and cilantro blend into a surprisingly delicate broth for steamed mussels.

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I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I put so many big flavors together. What I got was a surprisingly delicate balance. It was flavorful, make no mistake. But no one ingredient tromped all over the others – or our taste buds. Everything blended into one sublime meal. Each ingredient was definitely there and accounted for, but no one was shouting.

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Blue Kitchen

Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.

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Curried Mussels with Cilantro
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter

2 pounds mussels
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 stalk lemongrass, crushed, cut into pieces (see Kitchen Notes)
1/2 cup dry white wine [editor's note: substitue cooking wine]
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional (see Kitchen Notes)
2 generous tablespoons chopped cilantro, divided
1/2 cup light coconut milk

a baguette or other crusty bread

A quick note: Prep everything else before you clean the mussels – or even remove them from the fridge.

Clean the mussels. Scrub mussels with a stiff brush under cold running water, discarding any mussels with broken or cracked shells, or any opened mussels that don’t close when you tap their shells. Remove the beards which may appear along the hinge side of the shell, using a sharp knife or pulling with your fingers. Set aside in a bowl.

Heat olive oil in a large, lidded pan (a sauté pan is ideal) over a medium flame. Add the shallot and sauté until soft, about 4 minutes, until soft. Add garlic and lemongrass and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Add wine, water, curry powder and half the cilantro and stir to combine. Add mussels in a single layer and cover pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cook just until mussels open, about 4 to 6 minutes.

Transfer mussels to a bowl with a slotted spoon, discarding any mussels that don’t open. Add coconut milk to pan and raise heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil, stirring, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes to blend flavors. The broth will not appreciably reduce; that’s okay.

Divide mussels among shallow serving bowls. Spoon broth over mussels, avoiding pieces of lemongrass as much as possible (there’s nothing dangerous about it – it’s just chewy). Sprinkle with remaining cilantro and serve with crusty bread for sopping up the flavorful broth.

Kitchen Notes

Lemongrass. This delicious Southeast Asian grass (yes, it’s really a grass) is filled with citrus oil. It’s also fibrous and tough. Sometimes, you need the actual plant, so you peel it down to the tender core and mince it well. Other times, like now, all you need is the oils. Peel off some of the outer tough leaves, cut the stalk into 2-inch sections and bash them with the side of a chef’s knife. This will release the oils into the broth as it cooks.

Heating things up. A little heat in this dish livens up the delicate balance of flavors. The curry powder I used was already packing heat in the form of ground Sannam red chiles. If your curry powder isn’t hot, consider adding crushed red pepper flakes.

Where’s the salt? You’ll notice there’s none in the recipe. The mussels release briny liquid into the broth, and extra salt is rarely needed.

Related post: Baked Mussels with Saffron and Tomatoes

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