Here’s a wonderfully rich but yet light supper dish—steamed mussels in a curry cream sauce—from Belgium, the world capital of mussel dishes. With a crusty baguette to sop up the delicious sauce, you have a one-way ticket to culinary nirvana.
Begin by lightly sautéing chopped shallot and parsley in butter (or butter mixed with some olive oil), sprinkle this soffritto with a bit of cayenne pepper (not too much, just enough to give the dish a little ‘kick’) then pour over a cup or so of white wine. Allow to simmer for a few minutes, then add your mussels, in their shells. Cover and allow the mussels to steam until they open, then transfer the mussels with a slotted spoon to a heated serving vessel (I find that an enameled cast-iron soup pot is ideal) and keep warm while you make the sauce.
Allow the juices in the pot to reduce for a minute or two over high heat, then add a good pour heavy cream and sweet curry powder (or curry paste if you have it) to taste. Allow to reduce to a saucy consistency and pour over the mussels. Sprinkle with a bit more chopped parsley and serve immediately.
As for measurements, I find that 500g or a pound of unshelled mussels is about right for someone with a healthy appetite, if you are serving this as the main course of a light supper. As a starter, count on half of that. For each serving of mussels, use one small shallot and a sprig of parsley for the soffritto, and a small glassful each of wine and cream. The amounts of cayenne and curry are a matter of taste, but I’d add a small spoonful or the cayenne and several good shakes of curry. But exact measures here, as for so many dishes, are not that important. Your judgment and experience are your best guides.
NOTES: Try to find smallish mussels, which have more delicate taste and texture. These days mussels are raised in ‘mussel parks’ rather than collected on the shore so that they carry very little (if any) sand, but if you have any doubts about it, you can soak them in water for about an hour before cooking. Check the juices after you have removed the steamed mussels from the pot; if you see any sand, then strain the juices through cheese cloth before proceeding. Mussels also used to come with ‘beards’—those threads that the mussel used to attach itself to whatever it was growing on. These days mussels are also sold de-bearded but if not, the beard needs to be removed.
The dish is not really meant to be ‘hot’ but simply savory. The curry should be of the ‘sweet’ variety and the cayenne used with discretion. But there is something about the combination of sweet—from the cream and shallots—and savory from the curry that is just exquisite. Do try it some time.
If you omit the cream and curry, this dish becomes the classic moules marinières. Mussels steamed this way is the departure point for an incredible variety of variations, with tomatoes, saffron, fennel… and many other variations on the theme. In Belgium, steamed mussels are often paired with French fries (which are really Belgian, not French, in origin, by the way) and washed down with a good beer. Italians also make steamed mussels; if you want to try one example, see my recipe for a sauté di cozze.