This morning presented itself cloaked in a blanket of white snow. The air is chilly with temperatures in the mid-twenties and gray sky. Ready or not here it comes! This is the time of year when we all yearn for comfort and warmth and that is represented in our recipes. Soups and stews or dishes and traditions from our childhood they all wrap us up and take the chill off at least temporarily. One thing I have found is every person has their own concept of comfort food and the interpretations vary greatly depending on your heritage and life experiences. It is such a special gift to be able to share with others that which has consoled and given us pleasure throughout our lives and the holiday season presents the perfect opportunity. So bring it on and start rummaging through that recipe box. It is time to get cooking.
The recipe I bring today is not one I inherited but one I developed a number of years ago when trying recreate the Italian Christmas Eve ritual of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It is believed to be a Southern Italian tradition for the meal preceding midnight mass (read more on the above link). Admittedly, my family did not practice this as we came from the Northern regions but as a young adult I became enthralled by all things Italian and the recreation of the festivities. Couple that with the trend of fusion recipes and my love of Thai cuisine and you will understand how this evolved.
Let’s spend a minute discussing mussels. Archaeological findings indicate that this Bivalve Mollusk has been used as food for over 20,000 years. They are extremely popular in Europe and are gaining popularity in the US as their presence on restaurant menus increase along with their availability. You will find they are much less expensive than clams or oysters. If you are not familiar, I urge you to give them a try. Something you should know when purchasing is they should be closed tightly. If one seems a bit open, tap it on the counter and if it doesn’t close, toss it as that is an indication it is already dead and not fresh. This applies to any with a broken shell, also no good. The opposite is true after steaming, they should all be open and those that are not should be discarded. For more information on buying, preparing and storing, read Mussels 101 or many of the other sources available online.
You can serve this recipe as an appetizer, first course or a main dish if served with a crisp salad. Always serve with crunchy bread to sop up the rich creamy broth. Here is how it goes down.
STEAMED MUSSELS IN COCONUT BROTH Serves 4-6
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
1 oz. extra virgin olive oil
1 T chopped shallots
2 oz. dry white wine
7 oz. coconut milk
1 stalk lemon grass (or two ½-inch strips of lemon peel)
1/4 T saffron threads
1/2 T curry powder or Thai curry paste
1/2 lime (juiced)
4 shakes fish sauce
1 loaf French or Italian bread
- Clean and debeard mussels. With the back of a chef’s knife, crush the lower portion of lemon grass stalk or prepare lemon peel. In medium saucepan, add coconut milk, wine and lemon grass or peel. Bring to a scald. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Strain and add curry, saffron threads and fish sauce. Stir to dissolve.
- In a large pot with cover heat olive oil until almost smoking, add shallots and sauté until soft (30 seconds). Add mussels, stir, and add the coconut milk and cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until mussels are open (3-4 minutes). Stir or shake the pan for even cooking. Watch carefully so milk does not burn. Do not overcook mussels as they get tough.
- Divide mussels and broth into 4-6 bowls, serve with bread. Serve as first course or appetizer.
If you are wondering about debearding, I am referring to removing the hairlike strands that can be present on the mussel called the beard. They use this to attach themselves to rocks or whatever is used in farming. Since most mussels are farmed, the cleaning (more how to) is not as difficult as it once was when cultivated in the wild.
The first time I encountered mussels was when a good friend served them to me as a first course. They were prepared in a white wine broth and believe me, I was feeling the love. This recipe adds richness with its use of coconut milk. The citrus contributes brightness for balance and the fish sauce (available in most grocery ethnic sections) serves as salt giving it depth. I think you are going to love it!
I am taking a short break the next two weeks to allow for time with my family in California. I look forward to seeing them and catching up as we commune around the table with good food, wine and stories. Wishing all of you a blessed and beautiful Thanksgiving and can’t wait to hear how you spread your love, one festive dish at a time. Until my return, I send love to you and yours. I hope you have as much to be grateful for as I have. Jeanne