Grilled Mussels with Coconut Curry Broth

Grilled Mussels with Coconut Curry Broth–what more is there to say?  Enjoy.  Bye.  Ken.

Just kidding.. . .  Last summer we did a piece about grilling clams.  Mussels–and oysters–work the same way.  You pop them on a hot grill and wait.  When they open, they’re done.  We’re talking about very lightly grilled seafood here.  As you can see from the pictures, Jody first made the coconut curry broth.  Then we grilled the mussels (no, really, we grilled the mussels).  If you’re deft with a pair of tongs you can get the mussels off the grill and into the coconut broth with minimal loss of mussel juice.

Jody’s fidelity to–and passion for–regional cuisine means she likes keeping it as real as possible.  Despite picking up all of her ingredients at Whole Foods before I could whittle the list down, you’ll notice she includes a few items that might be unfamiliar.  Hey, the name of this blog is The Garum Factory.   Most of the ingredients are mashed into a paste in a  mortar and pestle*, then heated with a little oil.  Everthing else (except the basil and cilantro) is added to the pan and simmered for five minutes.  Toss the mussels with the herbs and the coconut broth and Bob’s your uncle.

Galangal, also known as blue ginger,  is a rhizome, like ginger, its near relative, which it also resembles (thinner skin, blushy-pink regions).  Imagine ginger with a peppery flavor note and a piney aroma and you’re in the ball park.  It’s a great addition to Asian soups and curries–in fact if you’ve ever sampled a bowl of Thai Tom Yum soup you’ll recognize the flavor.  Fresh galangal is better than dried, but we made do with the latter.  Although the dried is often available at Whole Foods, the fresh stuff is ubiquitous at Asian grocery stores.  If you can’t–or don’t want to make the effort to–get it, just skip it and stick with ginger.

Kaffir lime leaves, another Southeast Asian ingredient, impart a scent of the wonderfully perfumed kaffir limes.  I’m told people don’t typically use the juice of kaffir limes because the aroma is too redolent of perfume or scented soap.  The leaves however are great.  Easily found online if you can’t find someplace local that sells them.

Palm sugar resembles brown sugar but is made from the sap of any of several palms, primarily the sago palm nowadays, but palmyra, date and sugar date palms in times gone by.  The flavor resembles brown sugar, but richer, more complex.  We actually had some of this stuff sitting in our kitchen cabinet, a souvenir packet that Jody brought back from Asia (not realizing that it was available at WF).  Turbinado or regular brown sugar are fine substitutes.

Finally, my wife’s inclinations notwithstanding, the point of the post is: quick seasoned broth + grilled shellfish = easy appetizer or even grilled meal.  You can toss regional authenticity to the wind and make a serviceable substitute with coconut milk and a decent curry paste (or any of the other combos listed below).  It won’t be as complexly aromatic, but it will be good, especially if you include some fresh cilantro and basil.

Keen-eyed readers will note that something long-stemmed and green appears in the photos, but not in the recipe.  Always feel free to improvise.  I love getting comments when people say, “We couldn’t lay our hands on Norwegian salamander bladders, so we just used run of the mill monkfish livers and it was fabulous!”  We happened to have half a bag of pea tips leftover from last week.  On to the grill with them!  And then into the mussels.   

Enjoy.  Bye.  Ken

*Or you can follow along with the same steps in a food processor.  However, a mortar and pestle is a VERY cheap investment, especially if you buy one over the internet or at an Asian grocery store large enough to carry kitchen equipment.  The texture of a pesto or curry paste made with a mortar and pestle is quite different from the same items prepared in a blender or  food processor and to my palate tastes more vivid, the result, I believe, of mashing versus cutting.  Plus, there’s nothing like bashing the daylights out of something by hand.

Grilled Mussels with Coconut Curry Broth


  • 3 pounds mussels
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh galangal, or 1/8 ounce dried
  • 1 teaspoon minced hot fresh chili peppers, or 3 dried
  • ½ teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
  • ¼ cup  lemon grass, sliced paper thin, about 2 stalks  (just the thin tender interior)
  • 1 tablespoon minced coriander stems
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 dried kaffir lime leaves
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar
  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • ¾  cup loosely packed torn basil leaves
  • ¾  cup loosely packed cilantro leaves


  1. Rinse, scrub and de-beard the mussels.
  2. If using dried galangal, soak in warm water 30 minutes.  Peel any skin (like ginger).  Chop fine.
  3. Combine  peppers, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle and mash to a powder.   Add the lemon grass and mash to a semi-smooth paste.  Finally add the cilantro stems, galangal, shallots, garlic and ginger and mash to form a semi-smooth paste.  Alternatively, put all ingredients into a blender and process to a smooth paste, adding a little coconut water as needed to allow things to blend evenly.
  4. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the paste and cook 2-3 minutes or until aromatic.  Reduce the heat to low, add the remaining ingredients, except the basil and cilantro, and whisk everything together.   Allow to simmer 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, light a grill.  Set the pan with the curry broth on a table next to the grill or if your grill allows it, at the edge of the grill to keep warm.
  6. When the grill is ready, start putting mussels on the grill, cook until they open.  It will only take a minute or two, and then move the mussels to the broth.  Try to spill as little of the mussel juice as possible so it can flavor the broth.  Continue until all the mussels have cooked.   Check to see if any mussels are still holding onto their beards and if so remove them.  Add the remaining herbs, toss well and serve.

NOTE:  As mussels warm up (say on the drive home from the store) they will sometimes start to open.  That’s normal.  Any that remain open you after you give them a squeeze should be discarded.  Mussels that don’t open while cooking should also be discarded–they were dead before the heat ever hit them.

Jody Notes:  

When I asked Ken to light the grill while the broth was simmering, he said, “Couldn’t you just cook the mussels on the stove in that pot?”  Well, yes.  But I wanted to show how easy it is to cook mussels on the grill, and then dump them into a bold-flavored broth.  The broth could be white wine, tomatoes and garlic or tomatoes and saffron and cream, or beer with bits of sautéed sausage, or whatever fabulous flavor combo you can dream up.  If there’s an off the shelf curry paste that you love, use it.   Just cook it in a bit of  oil and then add coconut milk.  

Click on any of the images to see the gallery of photographs in large format.

19 thoughts

  1. Jody and Ken: I look forward to Friday mornings to see what you’ll come up with! This my kind of dish, although I’ve never tried mussels on the grill (clams, yes). I have palm sugar in the cupboard that I bought at an Asian market. It comes in 1/4 hard “dollops” that need to be melted to incorporate in a sauce. I’m sure the granulated kind from Whole Foods costs 20 times as much, but it looks much more convenient. Not sure how to get a tablespoon out of my dollops. Looking forward to trying this recipe!

    • If you put the dollop in a plastic freezer bag and give it a couple of good whacks with a rolling pin it should become a bit more tractable. Everything, alas, costs more at WF, although for things like this sugar – or various kinds of Asian greens – I like to forage a bit. We’ve got a large Asian grocery store (where I bought the bowls in these photos) nearby which makes things a bit easier. Thanks for stopping by. Ken

  2. I was wondering what to do for dinner tonight since we wanted to do something fun and easy cause everyone wants to watch the Olympic opening ceremonies…I have almost all of the stuff ( not the exotic) so this will be perfect with grilled bread and salad…thanks for a fun recipe!!!!

    • If you want it to be more of soup, double the coconut curry broth. I guarantee everybody’s going to be mopping the bottoms of their bowls with the bread. Have fun. Ken

    • Hi, Ayako–If I’d been a little bit more on the ball I would have folded an origami chopsticks holder. Too late! The crossed chopsticks don’t bother me as much as someone sticking them upright in a bowl of rice. Thanks for stopping by. Ken

  3. Galangal I’ve heard of but never really known what it was–piney aroma and ginger sounds wonderful. Loved reading about all these ingredients I’ve seen on menus but am otherwise unfamiliar with. I got a mortar and pestle years ago, and stored it in a hard to access place. You can imagine how much I made the effort to get it down. I’ve since moved it and have been using it more and I really love it! There must be some psychological benefit to all that bashing.

    • The only downside to galangal is that in large pieces that might be edible were they ginger galangal can be quite woody. Best to either bash it to pieces after chopping it finely, or leave it in such large pieces (say, the size of a quarter) that you can fish them out before serving. I love our mortar and pestle! Ken

  4. Love the photos of your paste making prowess, and final dish sounds heavenly. I must admit I’d never even considered cooking clams or mussels on the grill…great idea!

    • HI, Steve–If you don’t want to go through the hassle of opening them, then the grill is ideal. Just be careful to place them on their side so the juice doesn’t drip out when they open. They’re great for a dish like this where you toss the entire beast into the broth because you don’t have to decide between opening them ahead of time (to make lifting them off w/out spilling anything easier) or afterward, when twisting off the halfshell w/out spilling is its own kind of pain. Thanks for compliments. Ken

  5. Definitely my kind of dish and even my 6 yr old is a huge fan of mussels. It’s been on my mind to cook some them for a while so I think this recipe will be be a perfect crowd pleaser. Your photos make the dish look very inviting. I’m sold.

  6. Hi, Torie–Isn’t it funny how some kids take to certain foods that other kids wouldn’t touch with a garden rake? Our kids loved mussels from an early age too. In fact I used to make linguini with either mussels or clams and garlic on Friday nights when Jody was at work. Our kids would invite friends over for dinner and a movie and it was always fun watching them trying to convince a compatriot to give shellfish and pasta a try! Your own photos are looking very sharp these days. Ken

  7. Hi, there. You just made me daydream about Thailand. :) I’ll be trying this recipe as soon as I can pick up some mussels at the grocery store. Thanks for another beautiful array of food photos, too!

  8. Pingback: Keeping Clams in an Aquarium | Bangari Content Gallery

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