Coconut and saffron mussels
Mussels cooked in a coconut-milk broth infused with saffron and Asian-inspired flavours.
Most of the time, mussels in my kitchen end up as moules marinières, cooked simply in onion, garlic, white wine and parsley. When I want to change things up, this is how I do it: a velvety soup based on coconut milk infused with Asian-inspired flavours, lots of gorgeous, fresh mussels and a smattering of fresh chilli.
One of the many joys of this dish is that the soup itself can be prepared well in advance, even the day before. Just bring it back up to a simmer, add the mussels and you're 6 minutes away from being done, so it's great for entertaining.
Preparing mussels is easy. Put them into a sink of cold water and give the shells a quick scrub. If their stringy beards are still attached, pull them off firmly. Discard any that are open or have cracked shells; after cooking, discard any that have stubbornly refused to open.
As you'll read below, I let the soup infuse for at least 30 minutes before straining it. This is entirely a personal preference on my part: I chop the ingredients lazily with little regard to their presentation (but great regard to their flavour) and like the uncluttered look of the finished soup. A more sensible cook than me would just serve the soup with all the ingredients still in it. Either way, it'll be fabulous.
Coconut and saffron mussels
1 teaspoon peanut oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 long red chilli, deseeded (if you want) and chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 stalk lemongrass
400ml (14 fl oz) coconut milk
2 tablespoons rice wine
¼ teaspoon saffron
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1kg (2 pounds) mussels
finely chopped fresh chilli, to serve
Prepare the mussels (see note above).
In a large pan, one for which you have a lid, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat. Cook the shallot, chilli and garlic until they soften and begin to take on some colour.
Cut the lemongrass in half, lengthways, and chop into pieces. (If you don't intend to strain the soup, make the pieces large enough to be easily retrieved.)
Add the coconut milk, rice wine, lemongrass and saffron, stirring until it comes to a simmer. At this point, you can remove it from the heat and let it infuse for 30 minutes, then pass through a fine sieve or chinois; this isn't essential, just the way I do it.
When the soup is simmering, add the lime juice and fish sauce. Taste, balancing as necessary.
Add the mussels, pop on the lid and let it simmer away for at least 6 minutes. Take a quick peek before removing from the heat: most, if not all, of the mussels should have opened. If not, just put the lid back on and give them a little more time.
Transfer the mussels to serving bowls with a skimmer or large slotted spoon, pour over the soup and sprinkle with fresh chilli. Serve immediately.