Steamed Mussels in Lemongrass and Basil

Serves 4 as an appetizer or snack

1/2 cup Basic Chicken Stock (see below)

2 tablespoons minced lemongrass

6 kaffir lime leaves, torn or cut in half (optional)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 fresh hot red or green chili, preferably Thai, thinly sliced (deseeded if you prefer less heat)

2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)

1 tablespoon palm or brown sugar

2 small handfuls, about 1/2 cup, of fresh coriander leaves (cilantro), finely chopped

1 pound fresh mussels, debearded and scrubbed clean

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons all-purpose cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Fresh coriander leaves (cilantro) for garnish

Lime wedges

1. Pour the chicken stock into a wok or large skillet. Add the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, if using. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to moderately high.

2. Add the wine, chili slices, fish sauce, palm sugar, and fresh coriander leaves. Stir to combine. When the sauce is gently boiling, add the mussels. Stir to combine and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Remove the lid and gently stir in the mussels. If some of them still haven’t opened, put the lid back on and cook 1 more minute.

4. Reduce heat to low and add the garlic and stir gently. Push the mussels to the side of the pan. Add the all-purpose cornstarch mixture to the liquid in the pan, stirring until thickened. Once thickened, stir to combine.

5. Remove from heat. Scoop or slide the mussels into a large serving bowl (or individual bowls). Pour the remaining sauce on top. Garnish with basil and fresh coriander leaves. Serve immediately with lime wedges on the side.

Cook’s note: It’s best to purchase mussels right before cooking, but if bought in advance keep them moist on ice in the refrigerator. Just before cooking, scrub them with a stiff brush under cool running water and trim off beards if they have them. If any are open, tap the shell. If they don’t close tightly, discard them. If they don’t open when cooked, also discard them.

Basic Chicken Stock

Makes 2 quarts

21/2 pounds boney chicken pieces

3 1/4-inch slices peeled fresh galangal or ginger

4 garlic cloves, smashed

2 stalks lemongrass; use the bottom 6 inches of the stalk with outer leaves removed, smash with knife

2 quarts water

4 ounces coarsely chopped fresh coriander stems (cilantro)

Fill a stock pot two-thirds full with water and bring to a boil. Add chicken bones and boil for 3 minutes. Pour out the water and rinse the bones. Return the bones to the stock pot. Add the galangal, garlic, lemongrass, and water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low. Skim the fat and foam off the top. Add the fresh coriander stems. Simmer uncovered for 2 hours, continuing to skim the foam off the top frequently. Strain and cool before storing in the refrigerator.

Katie Chin, “Everyday Thai Cooking”