There are a few recipes out there that are pure deception: they seem difficult to the unknowing when they really couldn’t be easier. Those are the reliably quick recipes I share when people ask what to make for date night, for a dinner party, or any other time the nerves may get the best of kitchen confidence. One such treasure of a quick, easy recipe is mussels: they’re elegant and impressive but can be on the table in just a few minutes.
More than enough easy recipes exist for mussels, but what few of them say is making steamed mussels is really nothing more than a technique. So, commit that technique to memory and you really won’t need a recipe. At the most basic, the technique comes down to is infusing liquid with flavors and then letting the mussels steam in the liquid until they open. No, seriously, it’s that easy.
Most would have you start with a French or Belgian take on mussels, because mussels are seriously popular over there. I, however, wanted to share something with a little kick but without any more hassle. The result are these Southeast Asian-flavored mussels loaded with lemongrass, chilis, ginger, lime, and mint.
If I’m going to talk mussels, it’s only fair to share my favorite way of eating them. My French stepmother taught me a technique when I was little, which, at the time, I was convinced was our secret, cool kids way. That was until I learned that most all French and Belgians use that very technique.
The concept is as follows: remove (and eat) the meat out of one of the mussels, leaving the halves connected so it’s like a castanet. Then use that empty shell as a sort of tweezer to pluck the meat from the other shells. (Making sure to not eat any mussels that are still closed after cooking.) Of course, no matter if you use this technique or eat them with a fork they’ll still taste the same. Promise.
Pretty. Easy. Lemongrass-Chili Mussels Recipe
Though this recipe is truly “pretty easy” there are a few tips you’ll want to heed. First, check out how to cut with lemongrass if you’ve never used it before. Also, lightly coat the hand that will hold the chili with cooking oil and don’t get your hands near your face or eyes after you’ve cut up the chili or you’ll be super bummed. Finally, be sure to clean and debeard the mussels before cooking.
- Makes: 2 to 3 servings
- Total Time: 25 minutes
- Hands-On Time: 20 minutes
- 1 tablespoon canola, grapeseed, or peanut oil
- 4 shallots, thinly sliced
- 2 stalks lemongrass, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 cups lager and/or low-sodium chicken broth
- 3 (1/2-inch) slices ginger
- 1 Thai chili, thinly sliced (substitute a serrano if you want more mild heat)
- 2 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded (see above)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lime juice
- 1/4 cup torn fresh basil or mint
Heat oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add shallots, lemongrass, and garlic and cook until shallots are translucent and soft.
Add beer and/or broth (or a mixture of the two), ginger, and chili and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until broth is well flavored with aromatics, about 10 minutes.
Stir in fish sauce and sugar, taste, and add more as desired (it should taste spicy, sweet, and a tad salty at this point). Add mussels to pot, cover, and cook until shells open, about 5 minutes.
Remove mussels from pan with a slotted spoon, reserving broth mixture and discarding any unopened shells, and divide mussels among serving bowls. Stir 1 tablespoon of lime juice into the broth and taste it. If you want it to be a bit brighter with a more lime flavor, add the second tablespoon of juice. Stir the herbs into the cooking liquid, spoon the liquid over mussels, and serve immediately.
Get rid of everything except the oil, shallots, garlic, broth, and mussels and add a dash of dry white wine for classic French mussels.
Nix the beer then add a spoonful of good-quality red curry paste and then coconut milk for half to two-thirds of the broth for a more complex sauce.
Brown your favorite spicy sausage and sprinkle it over the mussels before serving.
Pretty Easy is a monthly feature showcasing doable yet interesting recipes. Even those who fear cooking often find success with these recipes.