Sluurrpp…crrrunch…slurp was the only conversation going on at dinner last night. The kids were at a friend’s house which meant that my husband and I enjoyed a grown-up meal with no childish variations. On the menu: mussels in lemongrass coconut broth – and they’ll be staying on the menu all summer long. Why have I not been making these on a regular basis!? It takes just 20 minutes to prepare this one-pot wonder, and we both walked away from the table fully satisfied, but not overstuffed.
My infatuation began a couple of weeks ago, when we picked up freshly harvested mussels from Matunuk Oyster Farm at the Casey Farm farmers’ market in Saunderstown, where we purchase seedlings for our garden each spring. With music drifting through the air, stone walls hugging us into the market, and a rolling view down to the bay and across to Jamestown and Aquidneck Island, it’s hard not to feel rooted in the land and sea at this historical farm, which dates back to the early 1700s.
When my husband spied the shellfish vendor, he suggested we grab some clams and mussels to cook up later that afternoon. With a pound of each in hand, a trunk full of seedlings, and two loaves of crusty bread, we were on our way.
Once the seedlings were tucked into their new home, it was off to work in the kitchen. We prepared the mussels first, with white wine, onions, butter, and garlic. They were out of this world and, and swearing they’d become a summer staple in our kitchen, my obsession with ways to prepare them began.
As a kid, mussels were just shells we pulled off the rocks, smashed open, and chucked back in the water. But somewhere between waitressing gigs and globe trotting, how I looked at these bivalves evolved. A memorable meal in Auckland was a tipping point, when a bowl of green-lipped mussels were set down in front of me. I was stunned at how big and beautiful they were, with bright chartreuse streaks, rather unlike the blackish shells at home. The jewel-tone shells sat in a light broth of coconut, red chiles, and the unmistakable citrusy flavor of fresh lemongrass.
Those indelible flavors make their way into the recipe below, in which the ingredients are local, but the essence is exotic. Here, I’ve bathed our local mussels in a coconut milk–based broth, infused with lemongrass straight from the garden along with onion, garlic, and some red chile to turn up the heat. A splash of fish sauce imparts a Thai flavor, while grilled slices of fresh sourdough bread lend a tangy way soak every last drop of delicious broth.
Mussels in coconut lemongrass broth
makes 2 servings
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 small onion, diced
2-3 stalks fresh lemongrass, cut into 1 inch pieces
juice of 1 lime
1 red chile, thinly sliced in rounds (or 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
14-ounces light coconut milk
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/4 cup cilantro, to garnish
4 slices sourdough or ciabatta bread
In a large pot, melt coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onions are soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add lemongrass, lime juice, and chiles or pepper flakes, and cook until lemongrass is fragrant, about one more minute. Stir in fish sauce, coconut milk, and broth and allow to come to a boil. Add mussels and return to a boil then lower heat. Cover the pot and allow to simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring once or twice. Meanwhile drizzle sliced bread with olive oil and grill over low heat until just toasted.
Remove any mussels from the pot that remain closed or only partially opened and discard. Garnish mussels and broth with chopped cilantro and serve immediately with grilled bread.