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Mussels with a touch of the tropics

Tasting

LOCAL BOUNTY February and March, both having Rs in the month, are an excellent time to eat mussels in Mayo.

Food

Redmond Cabot

One of the most common questions asked of doctors is, “I’m taking my multivitamins, how come I got the cold?” The doctors will answer that while taking multivitamins may assist the body in general, the best form of defence against a cold is to avoid contact with those who have colds!
Food is just as simple. I’m constantly fighting against fads and the allure of the ‘next new thing’. While food trends may contribute to, and even enhance, one’s understanding and appreciation of cooking and consuming, the old reliables of eating fresh, natural produce remains the best way forward.
Eating food that is as unprocessed – that’s as close as possible to its natural state – remains the best thing you can do for your guts and wellbeing. While processed food might help on occasion, the nutrients and essential building blocks required for a healthy body are best delivered by eating produce that is as fresh and natural as possible.

Local varieties
February and March, both having Rs in the month, are an excellent time to eat mussels in Mayo. Blessed with an indented coastline and clean, fresh waters, we grow great mussels. Locally, I can call on Kate O’Conner Kennedy from Killary Fjord Mussels, Seán O’Grady from Murrisk Shellfish, or Padraic Gannon from Croagh Patrick Seafoods for local shellfish.
Packed full of flavour, trace minerals and nutritious goodness, these beauties are a joy to behold – and consume. Mussels are often cooked in either a tomato or a cream sauce. I tend to lean toward the former. However, at times you can take a different direction, so here is an interesting variation for you.
Go and find your local shellfish supplier and try some of their delicious, nutritious mussels. (Don’t forget their clams and oysters too, but that’s for a different day!)

Clew Bay mussels in coconut sauce
And so I found myself on the shores of Roslaher with Padraic Gannon, talking about about the natural mussels he harvests. The craic was good, the weather was kind, the Reek kept watch on us all, and Padraic and I discussed Mayo football and mussel cuisine.
The coconut milk in this recipe acts as substitute for the cream, the onions and garlic gladden the soul, and the chillies, ginger and lemongrass provide heart and heat. The mussels give the backbeat. Mix them all together and you’ve got a groovy tune….

What you need

  • 1 kg mussels, washed and debearded
  • 1 400ml tin coconut milk  
  • 1 med white onion, fairly finely chopped  
  • 4 garlic cloves, skin off and chopped roughly  
  • 3 long red chillies, chopped  
  • 3 1-inch ginger, peeled*
  • 2 lemongrass stalks both cut in half*
  • Oil, seasoning
  • Parsley for garnish

What you do
Place the mussels in a deep saucepan/pot with spitting oil and nothing else. Cover immediately with a lid, and cook on a high heat. Stir after two minutes, and take off heat once all the mussel shells have opened – normally another three mins or so, depending on the build-up of heat and steam inside pot. No need to overcook.
In a frying pan sweat, the onion and garlic four minutes. Add the chopped chilli, ginger and lemongrass stalk, and stir-cook for three mins. Added the coconut milk, and stir well with wooden spoon (if the coconut milk is cold, it will be more solid when it comes out, but it will liquify as it heats up). Bring to the boil and simmer for four mins. Tip the sauce into the mussel mix, without removing any of the water that has come from the mussels as they cooked – think of it as a ready-made stock. Mix and stir-cook for around four minutes. Serve in bowls or bowl plates, garnished with chopped green parsley. Warm crusty bread goes really well with this dish too.

*The lemongrass and ginger pieces are for flavour; they are not normally eaten.

Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.

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