At-Home Mussels -- And a Case for DIY Curry Paste
We were hankering for mussels at Casa Appetite over the weekend, a craving that also met our objective of eating more sustainable seafood. Mussels get a unanimous green light from the environmental community, getting high marks for aqua-farm management practices and their low position on the food chain.
If you've never dared to make mussels at home, it's time to get busy. They are so easy to prepare you'll be wondering what took you so long to wake up to this marvelous dinner secret. Once rinsed and inspected, mussels require less than 10 minutes of cooking time. Dinner can literally be on the table in a half hour.
For Sunday night's supper, I wanted a bowlful of ka-pow, a little heat in my mussel broth on this stubbornly chilly spring eve. A coconut curry sounded just right. But I wondered, should I buy a can of red curry paste or make my own? If you know me, then you already know the answer: I'm a kitchen geek and made my own.
Before you completely dismiss the idea of making your own Thai curry paste, hear me out: It's really worth the extra time. Really. Yes, I know, an hour of active prep time, plus an hour for soaking the dried chiles, makes a total of two hours just for paste making, but here's what you do to make this sidebar project worthwhile: You double the recipe, portion the paste into Â¼-cup increments and freeze it in individual containers. Next time you're in the mood for curried mussels (and you will be, I promise), you yank the paste out of the freezer, and you've got that dinner, as promised, in 30 minutes.
Unless you are a Thai cooking enthusiast, you'll need to factor in an Asian grocery visit for many of the paste ingredients, including lemongrass, galangal (a rhizome similar to ginger), kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and shrimp paste. Don't fret if you can't find everything on the list; I've provided substitutions for many of the more hard-to-source ingredients.
Although the traditional tool for making curry paste is a mortar and pestle, it is perfectly acceptable in our crunched-for-time age to use a food processor or blender.
The results, by the way, were downright stellar -- a balance of sweet, salty, spicy and pungent -- and a depth of flavor that only a pair of hands (not a can) can produce. We lapped up every drop -- and envisioned another red curried evening in the not-too-distant future.
Red Curry Paste
From "From Curries to Kebabs" by Madhur Jaffrey
10-12 dried hot red chiles (such as de arbol, pequin or Japanese), stemmed
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped shallots (about 4 medium shallots)
1 tablespoon fresh lemongrass, outer tough layers and tops removed, thinly sliced (about a three-inch hunk)
3 thin slices peeled, fresh or frozen galangal (alternatively, equal amounts fresh ginger root)
1 thin slice fresh kaffir lime rind (alternatively 1 lime leaf, vein removed, julienned)
6-8 cilantro roots (or stems), washed well and coarsely chopped
Pinch ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon shrimp paste or 2 anchovies (canned or jarred), chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons red paprika
Soak chiles in 5 tablespoons of hot water for at least one hour. (Alternatively, place them in a microwave oven for 2-3 minutes and allow to set for 20-30 minutes.)
Pour rehydrated chiles and soaking liquid into the bowl of a food processor or blender, along with the remaining ingredients, one by one, in order listed.
Blend, pushing down with a rubber spatula as many times as necessary until you have a smooth paste.
Makes about 10 tablespoons. Refrigerate or freeze any paste that you do not plan to use immediately.
Seafood in Red Curry Sauce
from "From Curries to Kebabs" by Madhur Jaffrey
1 14-ounce can coconut milk, preferably left unshaken
3 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
5 tablespoons red curry paste
1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla) or to taste
1 teaspoon thick tamarind paste (alternatively lemon juice)
1 teaspoon brown sugar (alternatively, palm sugar)
1-2 pounds of mussels, fillets of sea bass, snapper, peeled shrimp or squid
salt to taste (if applicable)
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves or 1 teaspoon julienned lemon rind
15-20 fresh basil leaves, preferably (Thai), or a handful of fresh chopped cilantro
Carefully open the can of coconut milk without disturbing it too much and remove four tablespoons of the thick cream that will have accumulated at the top. Stir the remaining contents of the can well and set aside.
Pour oil and coconut cream into a large nonstick lidded pan or wok and set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add curry paste. Stir and fry until oil separates and the paste is lightly browned. Reduce heat to low and add fish sauce, tamarind paste, sugar and ¾ cup of water. Stir and taste for a balance of seasonings.
Cover and simmer on very low heat for five minutes. Stir in reserved coconut milk. If using fish, shrimp or squid, lightly dust with salt. (Mussels do not need to be salted.) Add seafood of choice, bring mixture up to a simmer, cover and cook until done. Mussels are done when shells open, less than five minutes.
Garnish with herbs; serve with naan or over rice.
Makes 2-3 servings.
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