How to make Thai steamed mussels with lemongrass, lime leaves and basil

Undaunted by turbulent tides, these magnificent molluscs are delectable when served in pots with fries, but even better paired with Asian flavours, says Tom Parker-Bowles.

Where there is water, you’ll usually find mussels – Arctic to Antarctic, Caribbean to South China Sea, rivers, streams and lakes. They’re a hardy bunch, those mussels, some delighting in turbulent tides and crashing surf, others lolling in saltmarshes and quietly limpid bays. You’ll find them clustered, miles below the surface, around hydrothermal vents, and clinging, tenaciously, thanks to threads of self-produced byssus, to lonely outcrops of jagged rock.

They’re also eminently sustainable. As they require neither feed nor chemicals (unlike the horrors of farmed salmon), their environmental footprint is light. Oh, and to make mussels more attractive still, that delicate orange flesh contains more vitamins than Holland & Barrett, a mineral content that could fill its own cabinet in the Natural History Museum, plus lashings of Omega 3.

This recipe is from Kay Plunkett-Hogge’s magnificent Baan, a rare book that truly gets to the heart and soul of Thai cooking.

Kaffir lime leaves can be hard to get hold of fresh – try or an Asian shop, where they can be bought frozen. Thai holy and sweet basil really make a difference and are available from If you want more heat, simply add more chillies.


  • 1kg/2lb 4oz fresh mussels
  • 1 tbspn oil
  • 4 Thai shallots or 2 regular shallots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large red chilli, sliced
  • 2 sticks lemongrass, finely sliced
  • 200ml/7fl oz/scant 1 cup water
  • 1 tbspn nam pla (fish sauce)
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves
  • A good handful of holy basil or
  • Thai sweet basil to garnish
  • Wedges of lime, to serve


Clean the mussels thoroughly under running water, pulling off any beards they may have. If any mussels are open, give them a firm tap with the back of a knife. If they refuse to close, discard them immediately.

Heat the oil in a large deep saucepan (one with a tightly fitting lid) and sauté the shallots, garlic, chilli and lemongrass for one minute. Add the water, nam pla and lime leaves, then bring to the boil.

Add the mussels and bring back to the boil. Put the lid on and give the pot a good shake. Leave on the heat for three or four minutes, or until all the mussels are open and cooked.

Serve in a bowl, garnished with the basil leaves, surrounded by the delicious cooking liquor, and squeeze the lime over as desired.