Years ago, toward the tail end of the collapse of a ten-year relationship, I escaped to Charlotte for a night with a friend who had a spare ticket to a Sufjan Stevens concert. We went out to eat before the show and shared a pot of green curry mussels. We plucked the meaty morsels from their shells and dipped hunks of crusty French bread into the tangy coconut broth as we dissected what had become of my life. The dish was perfectly balanced and harmonious, whereas my life was disjointed and in shambles. And then I went and sobbed through an excellent Sufjan concert.
Later, toward the start of a new relationship, I decided to recreate the green curry mussels dish from memory. I fashioned a dining room out of two camp chairs and a folding table (my ex took most of the furniture) and plopped a steaming pot of the mussels onto the table alongside a bowl of bread slices, and we dug in. I had no television, so we listened to some records and talked into the night. It was the first time my boyfriend came over to my house and one of our first real dinners together, and it was wonderful.
Green curry mussels have seen me through highs and lows ever since. For me, they hit all the right comfort food notes; they’re simple and quick to make, they’re a one-pot dish that requires very little cleanup, and they can be made from memory for all of life’s moments, big and small. They are exotic yet informal. Green curry mussels also know no season; they’re just as at home in the sweltering summer heat as they are on a chilly January night.
Most of all, green curry mussels remind me that in one of my darkest moments, when I truly thought I had nowhere to turn, sharing a simple pot of food with a friend brought me a little joy. It’s a dish that reminds me of that night huddled around a folding table in an otherwise-empty living room, laughing and talking and flirting with the man who just last month became my husband. Green curry mussels are now our comfort food, a dish we turn to when we need a boost, when we’re feeling nostalgic, or when we just want to have a good time and eat with our fingers.
I’ve perfected my recipe for green curry mussels, but the beauty of the dish is that it continues to evolve as I evolve, taking on new meaning each time I prepare it. If that’s not comfort food, then I don’t know what is.
Green Curry Mussels
This is my idea of comfort food—a delicious one pot meal that comes together in minutes. It’s a dish that practically demands to be eaten communally, so gather around the pot with friends and family and prepare to get a bit messy as you pluck the mussels out of the tangy, creamy broth. This dish works just as well with clams if you can’t find mussels, and make sure to have plenty of crusty bread on hand for dipping.
2 lbs mussels (or clams)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium shallot, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
½-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and diced
4 Tbsp prepared green curry paste
1 cup chicken stock
½ can (13.5 oz) coconut milk
½ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
One loaf French bread
1. Scrub the mussels under cold running water and remove the beards, a string-like appendage that may be hanging off the shell. If using clams just give them a good scrub.
2. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil, then the shallots, garlic, and ginger. Sauté, stirring frequently, for three to four minutes.
3. Add the four tablespoons of green curry paste and sauté, stirring constantly, for about a minute, until the paste just begins to darken.
4. Add the stock, stirring to dissolve the paste, and bring the liquid to a simmer. Add in the mussels (or clams) and return the liquid to a simmer. Cover and cook for five to seven minutes, until most of the shellfish have opened.
5. Uncover the pan and add the coconut milk. Gently stir to combine and simmer for about one minute more.
6. Remove from the heat, garnish with the chopped cilantro, and serve hot, with plenty of crusty bread for dipping.