Monday, June 4, 2018

Thisri Kooman (Mussels in Coconut-Chile Sauce)

I have wanted to make a mussel curry for a long time ... a very long time.  Getting the mussels is usually not a problem, because they are now available in many grocery stores.  The challenge usually is making sure you have a good bag of mussels, because the shellfish has a short shelf life.  I can remember the days when I worked at a seafood restaurant having to pick out dead mussels form the bag at the start of the shift.  When purchasing a bag of mussels, you should make sure that the mussels are closed or, if they are open, tap them a couple of times to see if they close.  If they don't close and/or if there are a lot of mussels that are open, then I would pass on the bag and look for another one. 

For this recipe, I found a couple of bags of mussels at a local Asian grocery store.  However, I always try to look for the origin of the mussels.  That information is very important, because there can often be issues with the shellfish.  Just last month, mussels collected from around Puget Sound tested positive for opiods.  Last year, mussels from Maine were found to have a neurotoxin produced by phytoplankton.  The Asian grocery store had mussles from Maine and they were in generally good shape.  The only issue were the few limpids that were also in the bags of mussels.  I did not want the limpids; after all, the goal was to make a mussel curry. 

The next step is to find the recipe for a mussel curry. I found one for Thisri Kooman, which is mussels in a coconut chile sauce.  The thing about mussels -- and, really, about any shellfish -- is that they each have a unique flavor that you don't want to lose in the jumble of other ingredients.  The combination of coconut and chiles provides a good balance of sweet and heat that allows the flavor of the mussels to take center stage.  

This is a dish where I just pile them high and get right to eating.  The only downside to this recipe is that, by the time I finish the dish, I always want more.  Fortunately, this recipe is easy to make.  I just have to get back to the grocery store.

Recipe from Raghaven Iyer, 660 Curries (pg. 282) 
Serves 4

5 pounds of mussels, in the shells
1 cup shredded fresh coconut or 
     1/2 cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut, reconstituted
1/2 up firmly packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or sea salt
2 large cloves garlic
2 fresh green Thai, cayenne or serrano chiles, stems removed

1.  Prepare the mussels.  Pile the mussels in a large bowl.  Quickly go through them and discard any broken or cracked shells.  Scrub each mussel (although the ones available at any supermarket are actually quite clean) and remove the beards (2 or 3 strands dangling from one end of the shell).  Tap the shell if it is slightly ajar.  If it closes shut, the mussel is alive and usable.  If it does not shut, discard it, since it means that this is dead.  Plunk the prepared mussels into a colander and give them a good rinse. 

2.  Prepare the puree.  Pour 1 cup of water into a blender and add the coconut, cilantro, salt, garlic and chiles.  Blend, scraping the inside the jar as needed to form a puree.

3.  Cook the mussels.  Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a large stockpot over high heat.  Add the mussels and cover the pot.  Cook, shaking the pot occasionally so they cook evenly, until they all open up, off-white meat, about 5 minutes.  Discard any mussels that remain shut.

4.  Continue the dish.  Add the pureed mixture to the stockpot and stir into the mussel-flavored broth, which will now turn green.  Ladle some of the broth over the mussels to baste them a bit as you cook, uncovered, until the broth has warmed up, 1 to 2 minutes.  Pour the mussel and broth into a large serving bowl and serve. 


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