A Rhapsody in Thai Mussels Syʀpʀiz

In the early dating phase of our relationship, my boyfriend took me out to his favorite French restaurant in San Francisco. He would get his usual Thai Mussels with Pommes Frites, and I, the escargots and endive pear salad. As it was our habit to share from our plates, tasting the Thai broth that had steamed the clam still needed some more flavorings that could enhance it to its fullest potential.
My rendition of the Thai Mussels was born out of my interest to deliver on a promise that I could make the broth much better than it was. Having searched the internet, I was not able to find one similar to mine, although I think it may have to do with a lack of finding some ingredients like kaffir lime leaves and whole star anise at local grocery stores.
The bouquet garni of this exotic palette includes lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, star anise, ginger, and fennel stalks. Sauteeing the shallots and tomato with the curry paste in oil will help form the base of this delicious broth. Add the herbs and spices to the saute mix and continue to precipitate the flavors. Finally, add the surprise element– champagne to cut through the spices and add a sweet layer to the taste profile. As the mussels open, add the star anise and cilantro–and cover tightly for a minute to let the flavors intermingle. Serve in the pan with toasted sourdough bread to sop all that dearly awaited broth. If you have time, the homemade french fries, cut thinly will do just as well.

P.S. The ‘surprise’ [syʀpʀiz] component of the recipe is the Champagne as Andy does not have a particular liking for it. I made this dish post NYE celebration with some leftover Champagne– Quelle horreur! Happy New Year to all 🙂



  • 4 to 5 lbs of Mussels
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon of Thai Red Curry paste
  • 1/3 cup of coconut milk
  • 1 cup of chicken broth
  • 1 medium shallot, diced
  • Fennel stalks
  • 4 Kaffir leaves, finely julienned
  • 1 knob of ginger about 3 tablespoons julienned
  • 1 lemongrass stalk
  • 1 Roma tomato
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 1/3 cup of Champagne or Dry White wine
  • 1/3 cup of whole star anise
  • 2 tablespoons of Fish Sauce
  • 1 Lime squeezed over the mussels before serving (optional)



  1. Thoroughly wash and scrub mussels free of sand and debris. Debeard any threads from mussels with a pair of scissors. Discard any opened or cracked mussels. Place the cleaned mussels in a large bowl and refrigerate. Remove when ready to cook.
  2. Prepare all the ingredients. Place a 5 quart saute pan on a medium to high heat burner. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
  3. Saute garlic and shallots until translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, lemongrass, and ginger and continue to saute for 2 minutes. Place the sauteed mixture at one side of the pan. Place 1 tablespoon of Red Curry Paste in the pan and fish sauce, then stir around the pan, slowly incorporating the sauteed ingredients. Turn the heat to high setting, then add the chicken broth and boil. This will not take too long as the surface area is greater than the liquid needed to boil.
  4. Once simmering, start adding the mussels immediately. Stir the mussels well in the pan. Drizzle with the Champagne or White Wine and add the star anise, continue to stir, ensuring the mussels are all evenly displaced from top to bottom.
  5. Place fennel stalks all around and add the coconut milk, continue to stir thoroughly. After 3 to 4 minutes of mixing, garnish with kaffir leaves and cilantro and cover tightly for about 1 minute.
  6. Taste broth and adjust with salt and pepper.
  7. Serve in the hot covered pan at the table.
  8. Squeeze 1/2 of lime over mussels if desired.

We splurged with some french fries on this particular night.

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