Mussels with Coconut Cilantro Sauce


This meal of mussels makes a simple, healthy, and inexpensive dinner. It takes just a few ingredients and cooks quickly, so you can throw it together for a busy weeknight dinner if you pick up fresh mussels on your way home.

I love cilantro with coconut milk, so that's the herb I chose to star in this dish. If you don't have cilantro of prefer another herb, feel free to substitute. Fresh basil is a very good alternative. If you don't have fresh lemongrass, you can skip it. This dish will still be a winner without it.

To steam the mussels, I used a French Bordeaux blanc (Les Caves Joseph, 2010, $4.99 at Trader Joe's) but you can use any white wine you like, as long as it's dry. If you don't have wine or prefer not to use it, you can substitute vegetable broth or seafood stock.

This dish serves 4 to 6 people as a starter or 2 to 3 as a main course.

1 bag of fresh mussels, about 2.5 pounds
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
1 small shallot, finely chopped,
1 green chili pepper, minced, to taste
1 thumb-size piece of ginger, grated or minced
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 3-inch sections and halved lengthwise
3 cloves garlic, grated or smashed and minced
Freshly ground peppercorn to taste
1 cup white wine
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves and stems, plus more for garnish
14 ounces coconut milk
1 tbsp fermented fish sauce

Scrub the mussels and remove any beards. Firmly tap any mussels that are open and if they do not close, discard them.

Warm the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other lidded pot 4 quarts or larger. Add the shallot, some green chili pepper, and the ginger. Sauté until soft, then stir in the garlic. Grind in some peppercorn and cook until you can smell the garlic (less than a minute). Stir in the wine.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then add the mussels and cover. Once the liquid has returned to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook, covered, until the mussels have opened, about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of your mussels. Turn off the heat as soon as  most or all of the mussels have opened. Do not overcook the mussels or they will be tough instead of tender.

While the mussels cook, add the cilantro, coconut milk, fish sauce, and some green chili pepper to a blender. Purée until smooth, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, and set aside.

As soon as the mussels have finished cooking, add the coconut milk mixture to the pot and turn up the heat to medium. Stir to coat the mussels in the sauce, then transfer them to serving bowls with a slotted spoon. Continue cooking until the sauce is hot, just another minute or two.

Once the sauce is hot, pour it over the mussels. Garnish them with the reserved cilantro and serve them immediately, along with an empty bowl to collect the shells.