Each Wednesday, I look forward to receiving my daily Washington Post newspaper for the Food section. It is chock-a-block-full of recipes, restaurant tidbits and mini-reviews, tips on libations and wine and more. Much of the time, I am drawn to the recipes and photos, but instead of cutting and saving recipes, the Food section gets stacked back with the rest of the paper, and winds up in the recycle bin. I think that there is a lot to discover and learn from putting the information in the Food section to work for me, so I’m going to try my best to test out at least one recipe or tip from the section each week. My first foray into this venture was making this delicious Thai seafood dish which is very close to Tom Kha Talay soup. In fact, the recipe suggests that you can use Asian noodles in the dish to help fortify it.
Like many seafood dishes, the more attention that you pay to prepping the ingredients, the faster and easier the dish will be put together and on your table to enjoy. Shrimp and mussels are very easy to cook, but you must carefully prepare the shrimp by cleaning and deveining them. The mussels must be carefully looked over for any obviously cracked, broken or expired specimens-look carefully at each mussel to ensure each one is intact, and closed. If a mussel is open, gently tap the shell to see if it closes. If it does not close, toss it. Conversely, once you’ve cooked your mussels, they should open up. Any mussels that remains closed should be discarded and not eaten. Further, try to do your best to source your seafood from a good seafood monger or store. Buy fresh seafood, and don’t be afraid to ask where exactly the seafood is from, and when it arrived. I prefer smaller mussels-PEI (Prince Edward Island) to be specific. In my experience, they are sweeter. In addition, they are rope-grown, and therefore, less prone to sandy grit (still, thoroughly wash and debeard each mussel). For the shrimp, I like medium to large size, ranging from about 15-25 count size. I think they are meatier, and easier to prepare-there’s just less to deal with when you buy a larger size.
This dish is subtly complex-the lemongrass and orange peel are soothing and aromatic. The chili pepper, which I suggest you do not shy away from, plays nicely against the coconut milk which acts to temper the creeping heat. I also adore the combination of coconut milk and cilantro-especially when the fresh cilantro gently wilts from the heat of the soup. The aroma is fantastic. A nice handful of chopped cilantro on top just before serving gives a fresh pop of flavor. If cilantro tastes like soap to you, try this dish without it and perhaps add fresh chopped parsley just before serving for a verdant kick. I would also add that using mussels (increase the volume as needed) alone without the shrimp would work just as well, and save prep time and money (as mussels are generally very cheap).
Difficulty-In terms of ease of preparation and degree of difficulty, I would rate this recipe a 2.5/5. You will have to roll up your sleeves to get the ingredients ready to go, but once you have, you are well on your way.
Taste- rates a 4/5- I think that adding noodles (as suggested) would make this dish even better. Or, get yourself a really wonderful crusty bread to sop up the broth. Conversely, use a soup spoon to get the remains of the aromatic broth. Heck, just pick the bowl up to your mouth and tip it!
Would I entertain with this dish?-Definitely. I especially appreciate how the ingredients can be prepped ahead of time, and put together rather quickly. This dish would serve as a shared appetizer, or as a main with the noodles added.
Sources (other than pantry items):
Lemongrass, coconut milk, peppers, ginger-Giant supermarket
Mussels, shrimp, chili sauce, vegetable broth (organic)-Whole Foods (Old Town Alexandria). I’m not pleased that I have to convey that I was not satisfied with the quality of the mussels and shrimp from WF, Alexandria. On two separate occasions, bags of Maine mussels yielded many broken and dead mussels. The shrimp tasted of iodine. I mention this as a footnote to pass along my experience, and separate this from the dish itself. I have had better experiences with ingredients from Slavin’s, and plan to make this dish again with PEI mussels and follow my own advice on determining the provinence and freshness of the ingredients prior to purchasing.
Mussels and Shrimp in a Coconut-Lime Broth
4 to 6 servings
- 5 medium cloves garlic
- 2-inch piece ginger root
- 1 or 2 serrano chili peppers
- 2 medium red or orange bell peppers
- 1 medium red onion
- 1 stalk lemon grass, tough outer leaves discarded
- 2 pounds mussels
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin coconut oil (optional; may substitute extra-virgin olive oil)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Fine sea salt
- 20 large raw shrimp (about 1 1/4 pounds)
- 2 medium limes
- 1 medium orange
- 3 scallions
- 14 ounces coconut milk (may use low-fat)
- 3 cups organic vegetable broth
- Leaves from 8 sprigs cilantro
- Sweet chili sauce or toasted sesame oil, for serving (optional)
Peel the garlic, then cut it into very thin slices. Peel the ginger, then it into very thin slices. Stem and seed the serrano peppers, then mince. Cut away the flesh from the bell peppers and cut it into small dice. Cut the onion into small dice. Cut the lemon grass into 2 equal pieces, then use the wide blade of a chef’s knife to smash each piece.Rinse and drain the mussels; discard any whose shells are broken or damaged.Combine the coconut oil, if using, and the olive oil in a medium soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, chili pepper to taste, bell peppers and onion, stirring to coat evenly. Reduce the heat to medium (the sizzle should quiet down) and cook for about 6 minutes, until the onion and bell peppers just start to soften. Season lightly with salt.While the vegetables are cooking, peel and devein the shrimp. Juice the limes (to yield 1/4 to 1/3 cup). Use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest (in large strips; no white pith) from the orange. Cut the white and light-green parts of the scallions crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces.Add the coconut milk, vegetable broth, lime juice, strips of orange peel and smashed lemon grass to the pot. Increase the heat to medium-high; stir to mix well. Once the mixture comes to a boil, add the mussels and scallions. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the mussels have opened.While the mussels are cooking, coarsely chop the cilantro leaves (if desired, or leave whole).Add the shrimp to the pot, making sure they are completely submerged in the liquid. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until they become opaque. Uncover and remove from the heat. Discard any mussels that have not opened. If desired, discard the strips of orange peel and the lemon grass.To serve, ladle equal portions of the soup among wide, shallow individual bowls, dividing the mussels and shrimp among the portions. Sprinkle cilantro on top; if desired, lightly drizzle with sweet chili sauce or toasted sesame oil. Serve hot.