Truth be told – I love seafood and mushrooms; two glorious food groups that possess magnificent natural flavours and personalities that I just adore. Although other ingredients have their charm too – for me, there’s something quite irresistibly sublime about the deliciousness of aquatic produce (especially when they’re extra fresh), and the other-worldly taste and texture of the pseudo-meaty fungi, that gives a recipe or dish that special x-factor element. And when combined together, both seafood and mushrooms can make for a very special and wonderfully exotic meal indeed.
Not many people dislike seafood, unless they have an allergy to it. 1 Part of the popularity of seafood is its signature flavours (sweet, salty, savoury and juicy), its association with the romantic sea, its peculiarity, and its difficulty in sourcing, which results in its often expensiveness – adding more to its allure and ‘delicacy’ status.
Mushrooms on the other hand, are more difficult to sell. Folks who enjoy it, cherish its organic, earthy character. Those who dislike it, do so for the same reason, especially when they’re cooked – where they can take on a new slippery, spongy, slightly slimy form, taste and smell. As a mushroom lover, I find it difficult to fathom why people dislike them so. To me, mushrooms are a deliciously divine and versatile ingredient like no other. 2
Both seafood and mushrooms are rich in variety and there’s still so much out there for me to experience. If I had to choose one ingredient from each category to work with – what easily comes to mind are mussels and button mushrooms. Both are naturally delicious by themselves with distinctive flavours, and both are quite cheap and easy to obtain, being readily available from most local supermarkets in Australia. Also, both are not so weird in taste or appearance, compared to some of their other relatives. 3
The recipe of this post – stir-fried mussels with mushrooms (kua hoi mussel sai het) – combines mussels and button mushrooms in a luscious sauce that is sweet, salty, umami and addictive. The flavours are enhanced by the aromatic properties of basil and spring onions, and lightly spiked by chilies and lemon juice, which boosts this dish’s personality.
The mussels and mushrooms are quickly stir-fried to retain their plump, meaty texture, making them a joy to eat. This dish is a dream to enjoy on a cold afternoon or evening (or any weather for that matter), and the sauce is just perfect to be soaked up with bread, sourdough, baguette, steamed rice or sticky rice, etc. Ideally, enjoy the vibrant flavours of this dish and temper its mild chili zing with a refreshing cold bottle of beer. It’s finger-licking good, I tell you.
This stir fry is essentially a basil/oyster sauce based dish with obvious influence of the fish sauce, chili, ginger, and other ingredients too. The recipe is versatile and you can tweak it as you please by omitting or substituting some of the ingredients to accommodate your palate. You can substitute the mussels with clams, oysters, scallops or other bivalve relative, and the field mushrooms can be swapped with other fungi, including swiss brown, oyster, black fungus, enoki, etc. Or you can do what I did in this example, and mix it up by combining both button and oyster mushrooms together.
I’ve included a preparatory step in the recipe that quickly steams the mussels to open them up so that half of their shells can be removed. Not only does this make eating the mussels more pleasurable, it also makes the final presentation of the dish more appetizing and pretty too. And as I found out, this is also a good way to inspect the mussel meat for any foreign objects, such as super tiny crafty crabs!
Stir-fried mussels with mushrooms (kua hoi mussel sai het) is a family-friendly dish and can be served to children and the elderly alike, on the condition that they’re not allergic to mussels or mushrooms (perhaps, there’s only one way of finding out?). Simply reduce the number of chilies or omit them all together, and be sure to give the mussels a very good clean first to get rid of any debris. I do hope you give this recipe a try. Bon appetit!
- 1.5 kg of mussels
- 10 button mushrooms (halved)
- 3 cloves of garlic (sliced)
- 1 knob of ginger (sliced)
- 2 chilies (chopped)
- ½ Tablespoon of fish sauce
- ½ Tablespoon of sugar
- 1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
- 2 Tablespoon of cooking oil
- ½ a bunch of basil (leaves only)
- 3 spring onion (chopped)
- 1 lemon/lime
- ¼ teaspoon of cracked black pepper
- Wash, clean and scrub the mussels thoroughly. Remove their 'beards' and other loose/dirty bits.
- Place the mussels in a large bowl and soak them in cold water for 2 hours. Change the water twice while soaking.
- Prepare the herbs and vegetables: wash and halve the button mushrooms; wash and slice the chili, garlic and ginger; chop the spring onions into 5 cm pieces; wash and remove the basil leaves from their stems; wash and slice the lemon/lime into quarters.
- Drain the mussels.
- Place the mussels in a large shallow heat-proof dish and steam the mussels until their shells just open. (This should take about 3 minutes - keep an eye on them).
- When the shells open, carefully remove the dish from the steamer.
- Drain the dish and save the liquid from the mussels in a small bowl.
- Carefully and neatly remove the empty half of the shells of each mussel. Discard the empty shells and put the mussels aside.
- In a fry pan or wok, heat the cooking oil on medium heat until hot. Add the chili, garlic and ginger, and saute them until they turn golden brown.
- Add the mushrooms and stir through for 1 minute.
- Add the liquid from the mussels, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, and cracked black pepper. Stir through gently.
- Add the mussels, basil leaves and spring onions and stir through. Ensure the mussels are heated up are covered with the sauce.
- Taste the sauce and adjust to suit your palate. What you're aiming for is a delicious balance of sweet, savoury, slightly spicy and herbal/basil flavours.
- Transfer to a serving plate or bowl.
- Squeeze some lemon/lime juice on top.
- Serve immediately with extra wedges of lemon/lime and bail leaves or dill.
- Enjoy with bread, sourdough, steamed rice or sticky rice, etc. Bon appetit! :)
Did you know?
1. It’s an old wive’s tale to throw away mussels that refuse to open after being cooked. Over 10% of mussels will stay closed, and this is normal. Closed mussels can be cooked a little longer or the shell prised open with a knife – unopened mussels are perfectly good to eat. 4
2. In the mid 1970s, most of the mushrooms eaten in Australia were sold in cans. Today, Australians eat 95% of their mushrooms fresh. 5
- I once had an allergy to some crustaceans (especially when eaten in copious amounts). I loathe that horrendous salt and pepper prawn weekend incident that left me in the shower with my body inflamed and face all puffed up looking somewhat like the Elephant Man (with all due respect Elephant Man – I’m mentioning you for illustrative purposes only, and believe me, if you saw me, you would have laughed too), scratching and trying to soothe the irritation down with heavy cold water, but ultimately resulting in me having to lock myself in the bedroom for the rest of the day, hiding away from my guests), but this did not keep me away from eating/enjoying them. I’m not sure what happened along the way – either I overcame the allergy, grew out of it, built an immunity to it, or simply have ignored its irritation – but today, I continue to enjoy seafood (crustaceans and all) (in moderation of course) whenever/wherever I can, even if it means a slight itch, scratch or irritation here and there, and all in the name of enjoying good food and living/loving life (as ironic as that may sound). ↩
- Think truffles and truffle oil, the highly prized mattake/matsutake, or morchella/morels, etc. (Although, do be careful – not all fungi are fungi). ↩
- Some people consider more is more, however, when it comes to cooking – to savour the natural beauty and flavour of ingredients, it’s best to keep things simple and minimal, especially when combining key ingredients together, hence for this dish, the two main ingredients are mussels and button mushrooms. To some, this combination may already be more than necessary. ↩
- Recent research undertaken by Australian Seafood CRC verifies that 73% of people surveyed throw away mussels that have not opened during the cooking process. This equates to around 370 tonnes of perfectly good mussels being wasted each year. Reference: http://www.australianmussels.com.au/portal/images/stories/Mussel_Fact_Sheet.pdf. ↩
- Reference: http://www.powerofmushrooms.com.au/did-you-know/. ↩