Curried Mussel Soup
Updated: Apr 6
"Anyone who tells a lie has not a pure heart, and cannot make a good soup."
Ludwig van Beethoven (1817 or 1818)
This is a recipe that has been handwritten in one of my personal recipe notebooks for at least the last 10 years - probably closer to 15 years. And it's one that has pleased dinner guests over that time.
As a title for a recipe goes this is not one from a style that I'd usually choose, so loose is the the term "curried". Sure, it suggests that what we have here is a soup, that it contains at least one mussel, and that it's got some spices in it. All of these things are true (and gratifyingly there's more than one mussel) so perhaps the title does its job. But because it is what the recipe has been penned as in my notebook it's what I'm going to call it for ever more.
In fact, the inspiration for this dish came from a recipe by the same name that I found in the 50th anniversary edition of the "Good Housekeeping Cookbook". Looking back, what I am presenting here bears at most skeletal resemblance to the one in the book, but my notes do imply further influences came from something I must have come across by James Martin. Now I'll be blessed if I ever unearth what that was so long was it ago!
Moving beyond the anthropology of a recipe, we're possibly coming toward the end of the best of the mussels from the south coast for this season, and it may well be that they won't be coming to the market now until late summer. But if there are some good quality mussels in your vicinity then grab them while you can and enjoy this winter warmer. I personally think this works best as a starter or a fish course.
The spicing of this dish is, as written in the recipe, very mild in that the spices are not in the liquid very long. It can be made more intense by simmering the spices in the wine for much longer at the beginning of the recipe but a little extra wine or water would likely be required.
As with so many spiced dishes the length of the ingredient list can appear overwhelming, but also as so often is the case it need not. The collection of whole spices are all added at the same time so just need to be gathered together in a ramekin during preparation. In fact if some of the spices aren't available it's not really a problem. You can add more of another dried spice on the list or maybe introduce something else: mace, nutmeg, fenugreek seeds, allspice for example.
I've left the quantity of coconut cream as an approximate one simply because either side of the quantity suggested it's more a matter of taste than it is anything else. A more intensely-spiced version of the dish would welcome more coconut cream than proposed whereas less coconut cream will likely crave less seasoning.
But the good news is the soup broth can be tried and tested well before the dish is due to be served. In fact the whole recipe can be made up until the end of step 3 a day in advance with the broth and the mussels kept separately in the fridge. The things to consider before proceeding with steps 4 and 5 are that everything should be at room temperature at that point, the soup may require a little water to compensate for what may have evaporated and, probably most importantly, that the soup is reheated gently and does not boil for fear of causing it to split.
Curried Mussel Soup
Ingredients (Serves 2 as a starter or a fish course)
500g mussels, cleaned
2 large knobs of butter
2 shallots (or 1 small onion), peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large clove of garlic, peeled, crushed and coarsely chopped
½" piece of ginger, peeled, crushed and coarsely chopped
60ml white wine
½ tsp ground turmeric
¼-½ tsp chilli powder (or to taste)
175ml fish or vegetable stock
100ml coconut cream (approx, see recipe intro), at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lime or lemon juice, to taste
For the garnish:
Handful roughly chopped coriander leaves, finely sliced red chilli, lime wedges
Whole spice mix:
1 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, ½" cinnamon stick, 1 star anise (or ½ tsp fennel seeds), 3 cloves, 3 cardamoms, 1 bay leaf, 10 black peppercorns, pinch of saffron
Melt a knob of butter in a large saucepan (for which you have a lid) and sauté the shallot (or onion) until soft but not browned. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a further minute. Next add the whole spice mix and fry for a minute or two until fragrant. Pour in the wine, bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for a few minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.
Bring the liquid back to the boil, tip in the mussels, cover the pan and cook over a medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan a few times, until the mussels have just started to open. Pour into a sieve set over a bowl to catch the cooking liquor. When the mussels are cool enough to handle remove the meats from all but about 4-6 per person to be served whole in the soup.
In a clean saucepan melt the second knob of butter then add the turmeric and chilli powder and cook gently to lose their raw tastes. Add the cooking liquor from the mussels to the saucepan (omitting the last tablespoon or so which could be gritty) along with the stock and 100ml water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat so that the liquid is only simmering then gradually incorporate the coconut cream a tablespoon at the time making sure the soup does not boil from this point on. Simmer gently for 5-10 mins to allow the soup to thicken a little then adjust the seasoning of the soup with salt, pepper and lime or lemon juice to taste.
Add the mussel meats and whole mussels and warm them through. Give the broth a final check-and-adjust of seasoning.
Divide the whole mussels between soup bowls, then pour over the rest of the soup. Garnish and serve straight away.
"Good Housekeeping Cookery Book", 50th Anniversary Edition, Random House UK Limited or The National Magazine Company Limited (1998, pp. 51): https://www.wob.com/en-gb/books/good-housekeeping/good-housekeeping-cookery-book/9780091863661?gclid=CjwKCAiAo4OQBhBBEiwA5KWu_wKXhiQxlg51nA0rWXlgBCyRZAUqgb-0U84aK616xC32Yr5q60TGehoCyXQQAvD_BwE