Updated: Apr 6, 2022
I go through phases with mussels: I always like them but there are times when I love them. They're in particularly good condition in the autumn and winter.
For a dinner with a few buddies not so long ago, we visited a Filipino pop-up restaurant, and I ordered the mussel dish, "Ginataang Tahong". What was presented to me was clearly what was written on the menu: mussels cooked in coconut milk, and it was delicious. Some time later, I asked a friend who is Filipina (and therefore speaks Tagalog) what the translation of the dish’s name was. Her response was unequivocal: "Ginataang" means coconut milk, "Tahong" means mussels. I asked her what other ingredients went into the dish and she told me “anything you want”.
On researching the recipe, it quickly became apparent that there were many variations and that, but for excluding coconut milk and mussels, I was unlikely to do the dish any injustice by choosing to use those ingredients I favoured and omitting those I did not. My creation is what follows, and is closest to reference .
The Filipinos are famous for being a musical people - this dish of theirs is rock star!
The two tricks in figuring out how I wanted to go about this recipe were first, acknowledging that the type of mussel and how it is comes when bought can differ from that which we are accustomed, and second, that the typical approach of cooking mussels in a boiling liquid comes with risk if that liquid is coconut milk, being that it is wont to split.
The recipe as written will serve two as a decent starter, but if you use the greater quantity of mussels (or a little more) and serve the dish with rice, it will serve two as a main. It isn't essential to remove any of the mussels from their shells, but it does make the eating a bit easier.
My brother, who has spent some time in the Philippines, advises me that the beers of preference there are San Mig Light and San Miguel Pale Pilsen, so I am happy to suggest that these may accompany well.
Ingredients (serves 2, see recipe introduction)
½ - ¾ kg mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
1 lemongrass stalk, outer skin discarded, the rest lightly-crushed and cut into 2" lengths
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and cut into discs
1 large garlic clove, peeled and cut into discs
150ml coconut milk
1 red and 1 green bird's eye chilli, each cut into two pieces (optional, to taste)
2 spring onions, cut into 2" pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat a teaspoon of oil in a saucepan and, when hot, introduce the mussels, cover, and allow to open in the steam of their own juice. Drain into a sieve set over a bowl to catch the cooking liquor. If you wish to do so, once cool enough to handle, remove around half of the mussels from their shells. Keep all the mussels aside.
In the same, or another, saucepan heat a little more oil and fry the lemongrass, garlic and ginger gently for a minute or two. Add the mussels' cooking liquor but avoid any grit that may have collected at the bottom of the bowl. Increase the heat and boil until the liquor has all but evaporated. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool a little.
Pour the coconut milk into the saucepan, return to the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, uncovered, to allow the sauce to thicken to a consistency somewhere between single and double cream.
Put the mussels in the pan with the chilli pieces (if using but, if not, I might suggest a grind or two of black pepper), cover, and allow the mussels to reheat for a minute or so, but do not allow the coconut milk to boil as it might split.
Finally, add the spring onion, replace the lid, and cook for no more than a futher minute. Serve in soup bowls.
San Mig Light 5%, www.ratebeer.com: https://www.ratebeer.com/beer/san-mig-light-5/4926/
San Miguel Pale Pilsen, www.ratebeer.com: https://www.ratebeer.com/beer/san-miguel-pale-pilsen/1168/
"Ginataang Tahong", www.pinoyhapagkainan.com, accessed 17 September 2019: http://www.pinoyhapagkainan.com/ginataang-tahong/
"Ginataang Tahong, Mussels in Coconut Milk", www.overseaspinoycooking.net, accessed 17 September 2019: https://www.overseaspinoycooking.net/2010/10/guinataang-tahong-mussels-in-coconut.html
"Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen: My Million Pound Menu winner BBQ Dreamz relaunches with new name", www.standard.co.uk, accessed 17 September 2019: https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/restaurants/bong-bongs-manila-kanteen-bbq-dreamz-new-name-my-million-pound-menu-roof-fest-london-a4118891.html