Two friends celebrated their 80th birthdays with a grand dinner that started with a bowlful of the most marvelous steamed mussels. The broth was so delicious that I spooned up every little bit and then cleaned the bowl with a piece of crusty bread.
Weeks later, I was still thinking about those mussels. When I asked the cook about the recipe, I learned that she pulled together a couple recipes from the web and did not remember exactly which ones.
No matter. Mussels prepared in a Thai or Asian style was all I needed to know. Not all of us have the ingredients for this on hand. Coconut milk, fish sauce, Thai red curry paste have not traditionally been regular features of Maine home pantries. I do not keep curry paste on hand and acquired the fish sauce only when I decided to make pad thai from time to time. I usually have at least one can of coconut milk around, but I cannot recall why. These are not easily substituted with other ingredients though. Instead of red curry paste, I used a red pepper and garlic paste that a young farm helper brought with her that she uses on her avocado toast. You can use soy sauce or tamari for the fish sauce.
The mussels are local even though in recent years it has been hard to find wild mussels to gather for even a modest meal. We are blessed, though, here on Islesboro to have a young couple raising mussels in a brand new business, Marshall Cove Aquaculture, which ships mussels to the mainland, so I used those.
Amazingly enough, their manner of harvesting them seems to remove the beards, that fibrous bit that mussels grow so they stick to rocks.
We had a few left over. I pulled them out of their shells and together with the remaining sauce, they made a terrific pasta sauce.
When it comes right down to it, there is nothing wrong with good old steamed mussels dipped in butter, or even garlic butter, but this Asian-style sauce is a wonderful way to gild lilies.
Asian-Style Steamed Mussels
Serves 4-5 people
5 pounds fresh mussels
2 limes, juiced
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 can (13.5 ounce) coconut milk
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste, or red pepper and garlic paste, or more to taste
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce or soy sauce
Generous handful cilantro, chopped
1. Clean the mussels and, if necessary, remove the beards.
2. In a large pot, mix together the lime juice, wine, coconut milk, red curry paste, garlic and fish or soy sauce.
3. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 3 minutes.
4. Add the mussels, raise them temperature to medium heat, and steam for 8 to 10 minutes or until the mussels have opened.
5. Discard any unopened mussels and serve the rest in soup plates, ladling the sauce over them and sprinkling the chopped cilantro.