Just about every Friday lunch at the restaurant we are extremely busy. Yesterday, in addition to my already full-to-capacity preparation list, I was presented with 5 kg of mussels to prepare and create a special for. You could be damn sure of two things, whatever I dreamt up would only take a minute or two to get ready, but still have loads of flavour.
The mussels I am referring to here are known in Australia as the blue mussel Mytilus edulis, a sea water bivalve, but you could use just about any small bivalve, such as clams, cockles or vongole.
A couple of points to remember when cooking mussels, firstly, beware of adding any salty flavours to a dish containing mussels. As they open they release their seawater laden juices and this will generally provide enough salt to the finished dish. Curry pastes like the one in this recipe contain kapi, a salty fermented fish paste, so taste the finished dish for salt. You may need to add a quick dash of coconut cream to tone it down a little. Secondly, bivalves have a brief window of cooked perfection. They are good enough to let you know when this window begins by opening, at which stage you only have a few seconds to remove them from the pot before they become rubbery. Check the pot every few seconds and remove any mussels that have opened to a waiting plate and your dish will be lifted even higher toward gastronomic nirvana.
1 kg (2 lb) mussels, clams or vongole
2 Tbs red curry paste
2 Tbs chilli jam (optional, use all curry paste instead, but add 2 tsp palm sugar)
2 Tbs peanut oil
1 ripe tomato, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
125 ml (1/2 cup) coconut cream
2 kaffir lime leaves, shredded finely
2 Tbs coriander (cilantro) leaves
Juice of 1 lime
Clean the mussels. Place them in a large sink and scrub under cold running water. On the flat edge of the mussel there is a small, rope-like protrusion. This is called the "beard" and it is what the mussel uses to attach itself to rocks and piers while it is growing. It must be removed. Grasp the beard firmly between your thumb and forefinger, then twist from side to side until it detaches.
Heat the oil and garlic in a heavy-based pot with a tight fitting lid. Add the curry paste and chilli jam (if using), and stir for a few second, turning the heat up high. Add the mussels and stir to coat with the paste, then toss in the coconut cream and lime leaves. Place the lid on and let the coconut come to the boil. Start shaking the pot from side to side to help the mussels open, which should only take 2-3 minutes. Remove the lid to see if any have opened and remove them to a plate. Replace the lid and shake again. Repeat this until all have opened. If after 5 minutes some have not opened, throw them in the rubbish. They have won and hence do not get eaten.
Bring the coconut sauce back to the boil and add the tomato, stir and taste for salt, adding more coconut if necessary. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice. Place the mussels in four serving bowls and ladle the sauce over, scattering with the coriander leaves. Serve with freshly steamed jasmine rice.