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Red curry paste (Recipe: red curry mussel stew)


Sometimes it takes a waiter with attitude to remind me of the value of a great pantry.

Last month, while visiting San Francisco, Ted and I and two of my favorite blogging friends went to dinner at the Fog City Diner, which has been a fixture on the dining scene since 1985.

We ordered a few different starters; I recall a tuna-avocado thing, and a nice salad with local greens. Ted chose a curried mussel stew, served with slices of baguette. While the other appetizers were good, the mussel stew was transcendent, and the four of us descended upon it until we'd dunked and devoured all of the bread and had to ask for more to mop up every bit.

When our waiter returned to clear the licked-clean soup bowl, we asked whether the chef would be willing to share the recipe.

Oh, it's not that hard, he replied. I'm sure you can figure it out.

And he walked away.

After a few seconds, we realized that no recipe would be forthcoming, but we agreed that yes, we surely could figure it out.

And so I returned to Rhode Island, to my well-stocked pantry, to extricate a can of coconut milk and my stash of red curry paste, for clearly those were the key ingredients in the mussel stew.

Red curry paste

All curry pastes combine dry spices (such as coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper) with "wet" or fresh ingredients: dried and fresh chile peppers, fish sauce, shrimp paste, herbs, garlic, galangal, kaffir lime zest or lime leaves, shallots and lemongrass. Red curry paste uses red chiles; green uses green chiles. The heat of the curry paste depends on the heat of the fresh and dried chiles.

Red curry paste, medium-hot, is the most versatile of all curry pastes; it's used with chicken, duck, beef, pork, tofu, shrimp and fish, and in noodle curries. Combined with coconut milk, it makes a fast-food sauce that accommodates the addition of any protein and vegetables.

There are so many recipes (including this vegan adaptation) for making your own red curry paste in a food processor or mortar and pestle, but nothing beats the convenience of having a jar in your pantry. Unopened, it will keep for years; once opened, it needs to be stored in the refrigerator, where it will last for six months or longer.

Red curry mussel stew

Adapted from the Fog City Diner Cookbook, published in 1993, which makes me wonder why the waiter didn't freely offer the recipe when we asked for it. Anyway, he was right; it is easy, and I had all of the ingredients except the fresh cilantro in my pantry. Serves 6.


4 dozen Prince Edward Island mussels or any small black mussels (2-1/2 lbs)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp peeled and grated ginger
1/4 cup peeled and diced tomato
1 Tbsp red curry paste
4 cups canned coconut milk
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
6 sprigs cilantro, for garnish


Scrub the mussels well and de-beard (pull the beard -- the little stringy fibers hanging outside the mussel shell -- down toward the hinged point of the mussel; it might hold on for dear life, but pull hard, and it will come off).

Melt the butter in a large nonreactive saucepan, and sauté the garlic, ginger and tomato for 2 minutes. Add the curry paste and coconut milk, stirring until the paste dissolves. Add the mussels, cover, and steam until open, 3-6 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open. Add the chopped cilantro. Serve in a large bowl with plenty of crusty sourdough bread for dipping, or divide into individual bowls, garnished with sprigs of cilantro.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Thai chicken curry
Egg curry
Pineapple shrimp curry
Green chicken curry with eggplant
Mulligatawny soup

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Oh, wow! I bet the red curry paste really gives the mussel stew more of a punch! Yum! I'd love to taste it right now. ;-)


Hip Hip Hurrah! Let's hear it for a well stocked pantry! And the sauce looks pretty tasty...Add a tablespoon of fish sauce, and you have a classic Thai Red Curry which is great for just about anything.

Ha! That's pretty funny! You'd think he would have offered to run and get you a copy of the cookbook to pad the bill and run-up his tip! ah, waiters... Either way, I'm glad you shared that story because you've reminded me that it's literally been a dog's age since I cooked anything Asian, and especially Thai. Thanks Lydia! you're always such an inspiration :-)

I'll have to put curry paste on my next list of new things to try -- as soon as the farmers market settles down and fresh vegetables go out of season.

I love mussels, but tend to get caught in a rut by either steaming or baking them. And while I have added mussels to chowder, this stew sounds like a delicious version I would like to try. I'm glad you got the recipe, even without the waiter's help.

It's too bad we didn't get his name, Lydia -- you could have published it for all the world to see! ;-) I'm so glad you had the recipe...and shared it. I haven't tried it yet, but it's a must-make. Oh my gosh...I'm craving it just thinking about it!

Many uses for this sauce. Have you ever froze this sauce for a later use? Did it freeze well?

Fog City- yum! and gotta love those easy recipes, getting my hands on fresh mussels the hardest thing...

I love your opening line for the post, just brilliant. It was indeed such an experience eating that fantastic mussel stew, and you're right about the recipe. Why didn't he offer the cookbook, which we would have bought on the spot most likely? So strange, but a good ending.

I love red curry paste. And this stew sounds divine. And I'm guessing your version is even better than the restaurant version. Just sayin'.

Paz, you wouldn't believe how delicious this was...

Julia, you're right -- no fish sauce. I'll try adding some next time I make this.

Ann, thanks. And of course we would have bought the cookbook. Silly man, not to mention it.

Mae, curry paste is one of those things that's always in my pantry, like chili paste.

Sandie, we thought this might taste just as good with chunks of tofu instead of the mussels. Or even without the shellfish. Or with shrimp.... it was the broth that was completely transcendent.

Genie, next time we're in the same city at the same time, let's make this together.

Dawn, I've never tried freezing curry paste, and I'm not sure it would freeze well. It does keep in the fridge for a long time, though.

Callipygia, good mussels aren't always easy to find unless you live near the coast. So try this with chunks of fried tofu instead.

Kalyn, of course we'd have bought the book -- I can still taste how good that bowl of mussel stew was. I believe we inhaled it!

Karina, maybe not better, but at least as good....

I have a fresh new jar of red curry paste and this idea looks sensational for weekend lunch.

I ate at the Fog City when they first opened up and then purchased the cookbook. It has some great recipes and I love SF. When I go, I somehow manage to get 4 meals in a day.... the food is so good there.

What a polite waiter :o

I don't think I've ever had a dish like this one. I love the sound of it (and the photo!)--it sounds so full of flavor. I've only worked with curry paste and chicken. I'm not sure why I've never ventured past that yet, but this is the kick in the head I needed as it is most definitely time for seafood. This looks awesome

I can smell it cooking now, Lydia. Bringing your trip to the kitchen is the best souvenir, don't you think?

MMMMM, I can't wait to try this, I may use fish instead of mussels. I have a jar of red curry paste in the fridge just waiting to be used up!

I always have red, green and yellow curry paste on hand. It's a bit of overkill, but one can't be too careful, can one??

Meeta, you're right, this would be a perfect weekend lunch dish.

Kim, we would have bought the cookbook, too. The food was great.

Mike, not only is curry paste more versatile, as I'm learning all the time -- but there are so many varieties of curry paste, each with a different depth of flavor (and heat). You could experiment for many years.

Marilyn, wherever I travel, I buy cookbooks -- by far my favorite souvenir. Taste memories are strong, aren't they?

Susy, chunks of white fish (halibut?) would be delicious in this soup/stew base.

Pam, like you, I never want to run out, so I always have more than one jar in the pantry. (How many more? I won't say!)

Hee! Maybe that's what he meant by "you'll figure it out!"-- "you'll probably find the cookbook!" I once asked my mom if there was ever any possibility of asking my favorite restaurant (which recognized me as one of its favorite patrons, yay) a recipe for something. I was promptly and summarily hushed.

Manggy, my food writing career began because I wanted to ask my favorite restaurant (where I was a "regular", too) for a recipe, but didn't want them to think I'd never return if I learned how to make my favorite dish at home. It's a rare restaurant these days that does not either share a recipe, or offer another one if they don't want to give out the one you've requested. In any case, the request could have been handled differently -- perhaps by suggesting we could find it in the cookbook.

Hey I just came back from Bangkok and I bought red curry paste! hehe ... bookmarking your recipe to try out ;)

I love the Fog City DIner and this stew! I can not wait to make it! All who try this will be amazed... So sweet and a little spice... Isn't it usually served with a few bean sprouts? Never the less... Just found this site! And am AMAZED!

Sarah, I don't remember the bean sprouts, but this is the recipe from the book, so maybe they improvise from time to time at the restaurant. Anyway, it's a classic for a good reason -- it's truly delicious.

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