Tip: Soak up the mussel juice with some baguette. PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR ST
While browsing supermarkets, I keep seeing trays of little green mussels and decide they would make a good lunch.
The best kind of mussels, I think, are Bouchot ones from France. They are grown on ropes tied to poles that are driven into the sand. They seem to be sweeter and cleaner than other mussels, possibly because no grit gets into them and certainly no barnacles try to grow on the shells either.
If you can find them in a supermarket, good for you. The green ones are more readily available and the price is irresistible. A tray with 700g of mussels costs less than $2. They are small and sweet too, and are mostly barnacle-free.
Add the robust flavours that go into tomyum soup and there is a good lunch to be had, with a glass of riesling at hand.
The fresh, punchy aroma wafting through the kitchen is another reason to make this dish. It is a perfume that makes me long for a holiday in Bangkok.
All the ingredients for the broth are easily available in wet markets or supermarkets and they are all essential, so leave nothing out.
In fact, if you do not like mussels, just double the amount of stock or water and the aromatics that go into it; add prawns, slices of fish and squid and turn it into a tomyum soup.
I have used both chicken stock and water, and stock is definitely better. Try and use a low-sodium version if you are not using stock made from scratch. Then a drop or two of fish sauce can go into it, giving even deeper flavour.
With very little effort, lunch is on the table.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: THAI-STYLE MUSSELS
Flavouring ingredients for Thai-style mussels
4 stalks lemongrass
2 small purple onions, about 60g
4 cloves garlic
50g coriander, roots attached
4 bird’s eye chillies, or more to taste
6-8 kaffir lime leaves
500ml chicken stock or water
salt or fish sauce to taste
juice of 1-2 limes
sliced bird’s eye chilli for garnish (optional)
warm baguette to serve
1. Place the mussels in a large colander and rinse under running water. Discard any with cracked shells. Pull the beards off the mussels. Give them a gentle scrub and remove barnacles, if any, off the shells. Rinse the mussels again and place them in a large bowl of water. Let them sit for 45 minutes.
Pull the beards off the mussels
2. In the meantime, slice off and discard the top part of the lemongrass stalks, leaving behind the bulbous ends. Slice off and discard the root, peel off the outer layer and slice each stalk thinly into rings. Slice the galangal into 4 to 5 thin slices. Add the lemongrass and galangal to a large, deep pot.
3. Peel the skin and outer layer off the onions, halve them and slice thinly. Peel the garlic cloves and slice thinly. Add both to the pot.
4. Slice the roots off the coriander and rinse them under running water to get rid of dirt and grit. Add to the pot. Chop the rest of the coriander and set aside in a bowl.
5. Slice the chillies and add them to the pot. Tear the kaffir lime leaves and add them to the pot too.
6. Pour the chicken stock or water into the pot, cover and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the mussels have had their 45 minutes of soaking.
7. Have a taste and add salt or fish sauce if needed. If you have used bottled or canned chicken stock, you will not need any salt. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the chopped coriander, reserving some for garnish.
8. Rinse the mussels once more and add them to the pot. Give the pot a good stir and cover. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until the shells open. If the mussels are small, 3 to 4 minutes at high heat should suffice.
9. Turn off the heat. Using a pair of tongs, remove the mussels and divide among two large bowls.
10. Bring the stock or water mixture back to a boil and keep it boiling for 3 to 4 minutes to reduce it a bit. Lower the heat and add lime juice to taste.
11. Ladle the juices over the mussels, top with reserved chopped coriander and sliced bird’s eye chillies. Serve with warm bread.
This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on July 7, 2013. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.