Friday, October 31, 2008


Thai chilli mussels. Served on a bed of rice. Or a plate of rice, if you prefer to keep your bed for other things. The dish should conjure up hot, sultry nights in Bangkok, jazz music, and a rooftop bar.

20 minutes, or 30 minutes if you stop for a pre-dinner gin and tonic. Or two.

Serves 2
1 kilo mussels
3 spring onions
1 bit of lemon grass, woody bits removed
1 bit of ginger. Chop off a bit like your thumb
1 garlic clove
2 green chillis
bunch of fresh local coriander, with roots
oil - groundnut, canola, or massage
½ tin coconut milk
1 tsp fish sauce
1 lime - the juice thereof
1 red chilli, sliced as if with a laser beam

Tassel Park Sauvignon Blanc
or Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, if you are in an expansive mood

Ideally, mussels should be delivered to you early in the morning, fresh from Oyster Harbour, by a friend who is being schooled in the genteel art of poaching by some grizzled old local fisherman.

Where did you get these, i ask my intrepid friend as she hands me a kilo of mussels wrapped in butcher's paper.
"Well, they were attached to a rope floating in the harbour out near the Oyster Farm," she says.
Uh huh.
"The rope was clearly a hazard to boating, so we removed it," she says.
I offer her a coffee, and bang my head painfully on the corner of the range hood as i reach for the percolator. She laughs.
"Sorry," she says. "But you always do that."

When cooking Thai chilli mussels, it is important to have the right music on in the kitchen. Cooking is all about rhythm and timing. So the music is crucial. Pray For You by Plump DJs is a good start to getting the job done. Get the plump ones or some other homie wigga blasting on the stereo before you start cooking the rice. And for the best results, hand the job of actually cooking the mussels to someone who can cook and dance at the same time. Preferably someone with long, raven hair. Who will dance like she is making love. You mix the drinks.

If you don't have a delicious dancing chef in your kitchen, take out your frustrations by roughly chopping the spring onions, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, green chillis and coriander roots. Use a knife. Then throw them, recklessly, into a food processor. Whizz the whole lot to a paste. If you are in need of exercise, use a mortar and pestle instead. Don't be afraid to add a bit of Albany rainwater. If you don't live in Albany, this could be problematic. Improvise.

You can de-beard the mussels, but i wouldn't worry too much about rinsing them. Seawater is, sadly, a much-underused culinary ingredient. If you are ever on a picnic by the sea, barbecueing up some libertine rapture, just go and rinse the lettuce on the beach. Lettuce with seawater dressing is a simple sybaritic delight. But i digress.

Heat some oil in a big, fuck-off pot with a lid. Throw in the paste and fry it for a couple of minutes. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce and lime juice. Mmm. Bring this to a gentle simmer and add the fresh mussels. Put a lid on it (not the music - keep that wigga ghetto blaster blasting) and steam for about three minutes. Just enough time to knock back a gin and tonic and dance to your favourite track. Now pour the wine.

Open the lid, and you may see some miserly mussels with their lips still zipped firmly shut. Fuck these taciturn, shellfish creatures off, and only eat those mussels that really want to be eaten. Serve these stunned, open-mouthed and beautiful mussels on plates of rice, scattering coriander and fresh red chilli over them like confetti on a wedding day. Spoon any juice left in the pot over the rice.

Sip the sauvignon blanc while flinging the spent mussel cartridges aside. The raven-haired one uses mussel shells to spoon the delectable rice into her equally delectable mouth. Mmm. This is pure, epicurean pleasure.

Time to book two tickets to Bangkok.

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