About 2 years ago I was invited to attend a backyard cookout at the home of one of my partner’s former colleagues. Unbeknownst to me, the star of the cookout was to be a cauldron of mussels, cooked over the fire in a curry-scented, coconutty broth that immediately brought me to my knees and forced me to weigh out all the times in my life that mussels HAD versus HADN’T made me so very sick (again – not because they are inherently bad, but because my body has some sort of unresolved beef with bivalves).
To further weaken any residual willpower that I had left, the mussels were being cooked alongside homemade flatbreads, which were to serve as vessels for mopping up the fragrant broth. I steeled myself to resist any offers of mussels and instead settled for a mouthful of warm bread soaked in the creamy coconut milk-based broth, which by this time had mingled with all of the sweet nectar from the mussels themselves. Any reasonable person could have predicted what came next after the gateway drug of broth had coursed through my system: a complete disregard for the firm boundaries I had set up followed by a record-setting number of consumed mussels. I ate them quickly and with a terrific sense of urgency, as if my body might reject them on the spot and finally lock in a negative association with the little shelled creatures that had harmed me so many times before. As it turned out, I lived to tell the tale without any repercussions, lending further credence to the notion that I could (and should!) continue to push the boundaries of bivalve consumption against my body’s better judgment.
This style of seafood preparation – with lemongrass, coconut milk, curry paste and ginger – continues to be one of my favourite ways to eat mussels, prawns, and other shellfish. The flatbreads are of course an optional addition, but I would encourage you to at least read through how easy their preparation is before you decide that you are NOT the type of person who makes homemade flatbreads. Should you confirm that flatbreads are far too demanding a task for you, a warm bundle of soft pitas or naan breads could happily fill their place.
Thai Curry Mussels + Grilled Flatbreads
Flatbread recipe adapted from Food.com
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced finely
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 small shallot, diced finely
2 tsp Thai red curry paste
2 stalks lemongrass, lightly crushed with hands, top 2-3 inches cut off and discarded
2-3 lime leaves (preferably kefir)
1 cup dry white wine
1 14-oz can full-fat coconut milk, shaken well
2 lb mussels, checked, scrubbed and de-bearded as described here (or other seafood, such as 1 lb large wild prawns, shells-on, preferably deveined)
Juice of 1 lime
1 small bunch cilantro, leaves picked, stems discarded
1 small bunch scallions, whites and greens chopped, ends discarded
Lime wedges, for serving
½ tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp olive oil + more for brushing
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (measured correctly)
1 tsp kosher salt
Make the flatbreads first by placing ½ cup warm (not hot) water in a medium bowl and sprinkling the yeast over. Stir to dissolve the yeast, then set aside for 5-10 minutes until the yeast becomes foamy. If the yeast does not produce brownish clouds of foam, chuck out the mixture and try again with a new packet; you might just have gotten your hands on a dud batch (check the expiry date!). Add the olive oil, flour, and salt to the activated yeast and mix to combine. I did this in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, but you could also do it with a wooden spoon. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes, until elastic and smooth. Again, you could do this by hand or with the dough hook attachment. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place for 30 minutes.
While the dough sits, start on the mussels/prawns. Place 2 tbsp butter and the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or deep, wide-based pot set over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion, garlic, ginger, and shallot. Stir constantly, cooking until the aromatics have become fragrant and translucent but not browned (about 5-7 minutes). Season with a good pinch of salt. Add the curry paste and stir for 1 minute to break up the paste and spread it amongst all of the aromatics. Add the lemongrass, lime leaves, and wine to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil then turn the heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced by about half. Add the coconut milk to the reduction and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the broth has reduced slightly more and is the consistency of a light cream soup. You should still have quite a bit of liquid in the pot.
Go back to the flatbreads for now while the stock simmers (or, if already simmered and reduced, turn off the heat for awhile until you need to cook the seafood). Heat a grill or BBQ to high heat. While the grill heats, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 4 pieces and roll each piece out into a 1/8-inch thick circle (don’t worry about precision, these flatbreads are rustic AF). Stack the circles on a plate on top of each other, with pieces of parchment paper in-between to avoid sticking. Brush the top dough circle with a bit of olive oil and place oiled-side-down on the pre-heated grill, brushing the other side with more olive oil. Cook the flatbread for 1-2 minutes per side, or until blistered and browned. You can’t really undercook these flatbreads, but they do go from golden to burnt fairly quickly due to their thickness (or lack thereof) so don’t walk away from the grill. Repeat the oiling and grilling process with the remaining dough until all of the flatbreads are cooked. Keep warm until ready to serve.
You’re almost done – just the seafood now! Add the mussels or prawns to the reduced liquid in the pot then cover and steam for 3-4 minutes (prawns) or 5-6 minutes (mussels), shaking the pot gently every so often to evenly distribute the seafood throughout the rich broth. Don’t fret about exact time measurements – the estimates given are just guidelines. The mussels are done when they are all open (start checking for this after about 4 minutes) and the prawns are done when they are entirely pink. Discard any mussels that have not opened. Remove the lemongrass and lime leaves from the broth and discard.
Using a slotted spoon, divide the mussels or prawns (not the broth) among 2 large, shallow bowls. Squeeze the lime juice into the broth, then taste it and decide if it needs any other seasoning (such as salt, pepper, and/or chili flakes). Stir the remaining 2 tbsp butter into the broth until melted. Using a ladle, generously spoon the broth over the mussels and prawns. Sprinkle the seafood with the cilantro leaves and scallions. Serve with warm flatbreads and lime wedges. Sop up all that glorious broth until your stomach sticks out a mile.