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Mussels Bathed In Thai Red Curry

I was a frequent Thai food take-out customer when we lived in St. Paul— Ruam Mit Thai  had some of the best Thai I've ever eaten. However, Ruam Mit doesn't have a Bayfield satellite and I needed to develop some Thai cooking skills. Our friend, Rich, was our very first dinner guest when we bought our house in Bayfield six years ago and he brought all the ingredients and made the dinner. As frequent visitors to my kitchen will attest, I'm a little territorial about my space near the stove but Rich is welcome anytime. He taught me how to make Thai food and I'll love him forever for sharing his recipe for Thai red curry with me. I still have the original recipe he copied for me before he left to go back to Minneapolis— as you can see from the picture, it's seen a lot of action in my kitchen.

I met Rich's wife, Tammy, on the dock when I was 8 months pregnant with Charlie. I looked across the marina and saw an equally pregnant woman walking down C dock and knew I needed to introduce myself— hugely pregnant women in a marina are about as rare as Piping Plovers on Long Island. I'm so glad I waddled over to meet her— it turned out Rich grew up three or four houses away from Ted, our kids went to the same pediatrician and our babies were due within 2 weeks of each other. Over the years, we spent many weekends out in the islands and even made the trek across the Lake to Grand Marias a couple of times. We always ate well on our adventures and dinner at Naviya's Thai Kitchen was an integral part of the meal planning process. So when Rich showed up at my door in Bayfield with the fixings for a grand Thai dinner, I was thrilled. Thai food, Grand Marais and the Jamieson's— beautiful and delicious memories.

Thai Red Curry Mussels (Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Far Eastern Cookery)

1 3/4 cups coconut milk
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
2 pounds mussels, debearded and scrubbed
1 stalk lemongrass, crushed
3 tbsp shallot, minced
2 tbsp galangal, chopped
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp red curry paste ( I use Mae Ploy)
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves ( I buy a bunch of them at the Asian market in Minneapolis and freeze them)
10 fresh sweet basil leaves, julienned
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Preparation
Skim off 4 tablespoons of the thick cream of the coconut milk and set it aside. Stir the rest of the coconut milk to mix. Place the diced sweet potatoes, lemongrass, shallot, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, garlic and coconut milk in a saucepan, heat over medium heat and braise until the sweet potato is softened (about 10 - 15 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.

Put the oil and reserved coconut cream in a heavy wok or wide heavy pan. Bring it to a boil. Add the curry paste and stir and fry over medium high heat until the oil separates and the paste is lightly browned. Lower the heat and add the fish sauce and sugar. Stir to mix. Add the sweet potato/coconut milk mixture and bring to a simmer. Add the mussels, cover and steam until the mussels open (discard any mussels that do not open). Stir in the basil and cilantro and serve immediately over steamed jasmine rice.