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Kids in the Kitchen | Mussel party

Throwing a party is no reason to panic ­— or spend a fortune. One of Chef Nikki McGowan’s go-to party dishes is a huge pot of mussels, which she loves because they are simple to prepare and inexpensive — but also delicious and fun to eat. 

McGowan, who teaches cooking classes for kids and adults at CKCS Foods (ckcsweb.com), serves the mussels in big bowls with lots of bread for dipping. Kids love getting a little messy, and even the less-adventurous eaters can be coaxed into dipping a piece of crusty bread into the sauce. 

For adults, the dish’s exotic flavors are a hit. And for the host, mussels mean only a few minutes in the kitchen — and a small price tag, even when feeding a crowd.

“This is super cheap,” says McGowan, “and really impresses people.”

Mussels in Coconut Curry Milk

Serves 6 as an entrée or 12 as an appetizer

McGowan suggests preparing this recipe right before serving because mussels cook quickly and aren’t good when overdone. Use a very large pot so the mussels have plenty of room.

6 dozen mussels, scrubbed and debearded

4 - 13.5 ounce cans coconut milk

¼ cup fish sauce

3 tablespoons red curry paste

4 tablespoons brown sugar

Salt to taste

2 or 3 lemongrass stalks

1 bunch cilantro, chopped with stems discarded

Sliced baguette for serving (grilled or browned in the oven if desired)

Rinse the mussels in cold water and pull their beards off, checking to see if they are still alive. If you tap one with a knife and it doesn’t close, it is probably dead (don’t eat those).

Place coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, red curry paste, brown sugar and a couple of pinches of salt in a large pot over high heat and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium, so the liquid comes to a simmer. 

Using the back of a knife, bruise the lemongrass, then add to the pot. Simmer for about 15 minutes.

Check the broth; add salt if necessary. It should taste sweet and spicy.

Just before placing the mussels in the pot, crank the heat back up to bring the liquid to a low boil.

Put the mussels in the pot and put a lid on it (the steam will cook the mussels).

Use a large wooden spoon to occasionally stir the mussels — otherwise, the ones on the bottom will cook faster than the ones on the top.

The mussels should cook in about 10 minutes. They will all be open when they are done.

Ladle some liquid, along with some mussels, into six or 12 large bowls.

Sprinkle the top with cilantro and serve sliced baguette to dip in the broth.

Serve with a big bowl for empty shells and a tiny fork and soup spoon for eating.

“The broth is delicious as a soup after the mussels have been eaten,” says McGowan. “And everyone loves dunking their bread to soak up the rest of it.”  

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