Before I started working professionally (i.e. for a living) as a recipe tester and a kitchen assistant, and began to spend the work day hours making six to eight dishes in quick succession, I didn’t really contemplate why people who were cooking all day long professionally liked to order take-out upon getting home. I remember talking to one private chef and recipe developer, and I asked her what she was making for dinner that night. Her response was succinct – there’s a great Thai place around the corner that makes excellent pad Thai. After being on her feet for eight hours, chopping, sautéing, and cleaning up, she was not about to get home and do it all over again. And until I started cooking all day long myself, I didn’t quite get why. But the simple truth of it is this: after a complete day of cooking, even frying an egg on toast just seems a bit much.
You know what else is hard after being on your feet all day? Everything. It just zaps you – intellectually and physically. Your body sort of aches and grows a little heavy as the day wears on. You check yourself in the window on the train ride home and realize you’re a hot mess. Your hair develops a bit of a frizzy halo, your forehead shines like a beacon in the night, there’s some pancake batter in your hair. But you don’t care – you wear your fatigue like a badge of honor. You’ve earned it. And when you get home, you just sort of want to sit on your couch with your feet up and unwind a bit. And you’re so grateful that there’s someone out there who is willing to cook you food and bicycle it over.
I have always appreciated the work professional chefs do. Intellectually I knew how grueling their days must be – in addition to being on your feet all day, there’s the pressure of churning out perfect food each and every time. But my appreciation and deep respect for their craft is now visceral. You sort of have to live it to understand just how demanding the job can be (and my eight to ten hour days don’t even begin to approximate the hours professional chefs pull). I want to hug each and every chef out there if only out of sheer gratitude for their hard work.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I don’t make dinner every night. I’m grateful for having plenty of affordable take-out options in our neighborhood. Also, my dishwasher – I’ve found new love for it – that little machine just takes all our dirty plates and silverware and spits out clean ones – amen to that! Every minute of rest becomes precious.
So on busy weeknights, when we do cook our dinner, we want something that comes together in a reasonable amount of time, so that we’re not sitting down to dinner at 10 o’clock or later (hello, Spain!). And these mussels here feel like we found the perfect way to cheat the system. We prep the ingredients (together!) with Andrew picking the mussels over to discard the open or cracked ones. Then he gives them a good rinse and peels a nob of ginger. I busy myself with the lemongrass, the garlic, lime juice, and cilantro. We drop a lump of butter in the pot, and let it melt and get foamy before we bloom the aromatics, stir in coconut milk and the curry paste, and finally add the mussels.
And six minutes later, we’re sitting down to dinner. Six. Whole. Minutes. It feels wrong, almost like cheating – to put an amazing dinner on the table in well under half an hour, prep and cooking time included.
An amazing, quick, and healthy dinner that is also sustainable (can we have double points for that?) – this I don’t mind cooking even after a sweaty, satisfying, but draining day in the kitchen. Just so long as someone else can be on clean up duty – um, Andrew?
Coconut Curry Mussels
Adapted from Everyday Food
The broth here is serious, serious business people. It will change your mussel-eating life. You will want to dip your bread in it until there’s no more bread left to dip. But that won’t stop you – you’ll grab a soup spoon and eat whatever is left in your bowl, wanting more with every additional slurp. Delicately spiced, fragrant, and summery – these mussels are at their finest. Having cooked many different versions, I can tell you these are, by far, my, and Andrew’s, favorite. You’ll want to make them over and over – as we have – even on a night when you’re beat. Because they’re that good.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 stalks lemongrass, dry parts removed
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk
3 tablespoons green Thai curry paste
3 pounds mussels, rinsed (discard open or cracked mussels)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1. In a large pot with a lid, melt butter over medium high. Pound the lemongrass with the back of the knife to bruise it, cut into 1-inch pieces. Add lemongrass, along with the garlic and ginger to the pot, and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Whisk in coconut milk and curry paste, stir to combine, and bring to a summer over high heat.
2. Add the mussels, stir to combine, cover, and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook until mussels open, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice and cilantro. Serve in bowls, along with toasted country bread or baguette slices. Be sure to discard mussels that aren’t open or that open slightly but refuse to budge any more without much force.
Serves 2 as a main course and 4 as an appetizer.