Vietnamese Inspired Mussels In a Fragrant Coconut Broth

Last week I was at the market. When I passed by the fish monger I saw they were selling Blue Mussels. These are a favorite in the Netherlands and most of North Western Europe. I bought them, not knowing how I would cook them, and was very excited by the challenge they presented. It just so happened that I remembered on Hell’s Kitchen, there was one episode where one of the competitors who had won a challenge was given a surprise trip to a restaurant that is famous for their mussels cooked in coconut milk. I liked this idea and went with it.

This recipe is a synthesis of all the inspiration I could gather in the short time I had. It turned out Heavenly. Best Mussels I have ever had, and I’m crazy for them. In the spur of the moment, I did not take any pictures. I will however take some for the blog next time I make this dish.

Feeds 2 for a main dish, 3-4 for a starter.

Picking and cooking mussels:

Buy fresh mussels in their shells and only cook ones that are still alive. When you bring them home, put them in the fridge until cooking. Before cooking, put them into a large bowl, remove the one with broken shells. Clean the mussels and remove the beards if not already done. During cleaning, look out for overly heavy mussels, these may be dead and full of sand or mud. At this stage you can rinse the mussels in fresh water and then submerge them. Mussels do not like freshwater. They will immediately close up. The ones that do not, are dead. Discard them. This is a pretty good way of ensuring your mussels are alive and fresh. Cook your mussels in a hot pan for no longer than 5 min. Later, after cooking, discard and do not eat any of the mussels that have not opened.

Ingredients:

1 kg mussels
5 coriander springs, leaves and stems separated. Stems chopped up and crushed. Leaves roughly chopped.
400 ml coconut milk
2 lemongrass stalks (white parts only, about 15 cm long from the bottom part). Finely slice up the top part into small rings (about 5 cm off the tops), halve the rest of the stalks and lightly crush.
Thumb sized piece of galangal (or ginger), roughly chopped up and lightly crushed.
6 lime leaves, bruised
2 large green chilies, lombok hijau, very finely sliced up
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 lime, or if you love lime, like me, a whole one
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepper (much less if finely ground black pepper)
1 good handful of mint leaves, chopped

Directions:

1. In a large and/or deep pot, fry up the finely sliced lemongrass in 2 tablespoons of oil, till fragrant, or roughly 2 min. Add the chopped galangal, shallots, and garlic and fry till shallots are soft.

2. Pour in the coconut milk. If your coconut milk is very thick, add some water to get it to the consistency you want. add a bit of salt or chicken bullion (very little) to season. Mussels are naturally salty, so be careful.

3. Add the coriander stalks, halved lemongrass stalks, lime leaves, half the green chili (or all if you like hotter food), fish sauce and black pepper.  Bring to a boil and when you are happy with the consistency, taste, and throw in the mussels, mint, and coriander leaves. Make sure the heat is on high, cover the pot with a lid,  and let it simmer or boil. Shake the pot around every minute. Let this cook for 3-5 min.

4. Pour the mussels and the broth into a nice glass bowl and sprinkle with the remainder of the  green chili and some extra mint on top.

5. Show off to your guests, and squeeze the lime on top.

6. Serve with some rice  if you are going to make this a main meal, or just eat it like that.

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