One of my favorite quotes regarding sustainable seafood is from chef Barton Seaver: “It’s our patriotic duty to eat as many farm-raised shellfish as we can.” While most fish farming is an environmental nightmare, farmed shellfish is a completely different story. Clams, oysters, and mussels are natural filters or “water scrubbers.” They feed on the lowest level of the aquatic food chain and improve the water quality where they’re grown. So, enjoy eating mollusks as often as you can. The Perfect Protein book includes recipes for some of the best, sustainable seafood options from several well-known chefs, and I wanted to highlight a dish with mussels. The Thai Coconut Mussels dish is from Sam Talbot of Season Two of Top Chef. I always start by soaking mussels in a big bowl of water with a few tablespoons of flour for about 30 minutes. This helps with eliminating sand and grit. Then, the mussels should be rinsed, and any beards still attached should be pulled off with the edge of a knife. To start the cooking, a few tablespoons of olive oil were heated in a large Dutch oven, and three tablespoons of grated ginger, four minced garlic cloves, one finely chopped shallot, and two tablespoons of finely chopped lemongrass were added. In a couple minutes when fragrant, two tablespoons of unsweetened, ground coconut was added followed by a pound and a half of cleaned mussels. The heat was turned up to medium-high, and then a tablespoon of soy sauce and one teaspoon of fish sauce were added. I also added some finely chopped, fresh chiles. After about one minute, three-quarters of a cup of coconut milk was added, the pan was covered, and the mussels were left to cook for about four minutes or until opened. Any mussels that don’t open should be discarded. The opened mussels were placed in serving bowls, and cilantro and mint leaves along with the juice and zest of two limes and some Thai basil and purple basil from my herb garden were added to the coconut milk. I also added some thinly sliced lime leaves from my tree. The coconut milk broth was poured over the mussels.
The herby, spicy flavor of the coconut milk broth was a great match for the mussels, and some rice noodles were ideal for slurping with the extra broth left in the bowl. It’s not easy to always make perfect choices in the ever-changing world of sustainable seafood, but learning about the issues makes it possible to do better as often as we can.
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