Mussels straight from the kelong

This is the tiny island nation of Singapore, all 724 square kilometres of it.

On the north-east corner lies Pulau Ubin, a largely undeveloped island-within-an-island.

In the coastal area south of Ubin, you’ll see several small white dots.

We zoom in to take a closer look.

They appear to be floating structures of some form.

These are the few remaining kelongs of Singapore.

And one of them is Ah Hock Kelong.

More than 90% of the seafood consumed in Singapore is imported, with the remainder being supplied by fish farms like the floating kelongs off Pulau Ubin. Usually, we don’t give this much thought, given the abundant and steady supply flown, trucked and shipped in from all over the world.

But once in a while, a global pandemic happens and food supplies are disrupted. Then you start thinking about growing your own vegetables and buying locally-sourced seafood online. And that’s how we found Ah Hock Kelong’s online store on Shopee and ordered 3 kilograms of mussels.

They arrived the next afternoon, chilled but very much alive. Bubbles could be seen in the pot where they were soaked and when they were de-bearded, they fought back. There were broken bits of barnacle on the shells and The Wife spent a long time scraping every single bit off with a table knife.

Turns out, it would have been perfectly fine to leave the barnacles as they were and simply soak and rinse the mussels to wash away any remaining seawater. But I was the one who kept insisting that “mussels we eat in restaurants don’t have barnacles on them, right?”. Sorry.

The first meal cooked by The Wife was Mussel Jjamppong, using a recipe adapted from Maangchi. The spicy Korean stew was a great way to use the super fresh mussels. They had the taste of the coastal area south of Ubin, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Ingredients (serves two)

  • 2 servings wheat noodles (fresh, frozen or dried)
  • 20 fresh mussels (about 750g)
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon gochujang
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 1 litre of anchovy stock (Kayanoya dashi pouch)
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

Vegetables

  • 3-inch radish, cut into thin quarters
  • 3-inch zucchini, cut into thin quarters
  • 3 large pieces cabbage, sliced
  • 2 tablespoon kimchi

Instructions

  • Start boiling a large pot with 1 litre of water; add in stock pouch to simmer for 10 minutes
  • Remove stock pouch from pot. Set aside.
  • Start boiling a large pot half filled with water (for cooking noodles).
  • Boil noodles according to instructions; drain and divide into serving bowls. Set aside.
  • Heat up pan with sesame oil (medium heat).
  • Add ginger and ginger into pan; fry till fragrant (about 30 seconds).
  • Add gochujang and chilli powder; fry another 30 seconds.
  • Add kimchi and vegetables, fry for 2, 3 minutes till soften. Add stock and fish sauce.
  • Once the soup starts boiling, add mussels; cover pan and cook for 5,6 minutes.
  • Check that mussels are cooked. Turn off the heat.
  • Serve over noodles.  

The remaining mussels were split into three portions, one was kept in the fridge to be used the next day and two were stored in the freezer for later use.

The second home-cooked meal was Miso Butter Pasta with Mussels, adapted from a recipe by Just One Cookbook. It was a Japanese/Italian fusion dish which turned out to be much better than I expected. The miso, butter and mussels paired well with each other with no hint of fusion-confusion. The mussels were still fresh and juicy, but just slightly less plump than before.

Ingredients (serves two)

  • 2 servings angel hair pasta
  • 20 mussels (about 750g)
  • 1 small knob ginger, cut into sticks
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (soften)
  • 1 tablespoon miso
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 2 teaspoon mirin
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • parsley/lemon/chilli flakes (optional)

Instructions

  • Mix the softened butter and miso well, set aside.
  • Mix sake, mirin, soy sauce, set aside.
  • Start boiling a large pot half filled with water (for cooking pasta).
  • Heat up wok with a little olive oil (medium heat).
  • Add ginger into wok; fry till fragrant (about 30 seconds).
  • Add mussels and sake mixture; cover wok and cook for 3 minutes.
  • Add pasta and 1 teaspoon salt into boiling water. Cook for 1.5 minutes. Drain and reserve 2 tablespoonfuls of pasta water.
  • Add miso butter mixture, pasta and pasta water into wok, mix well with mussels.
  • Cover wok and cook for another 1, 2 minutes. Check that mussels are cooked.
  • Turn off the heat. Serve with parsley/lemon/chilli flakes according to preference.

The third dish that The Wife cooked was Mussel Tom Yum, using a store-bought tom yum paste. The frozen mussels were de-frosted and had a more chewy texture and concentrated flavour, closer to usual frozen mussels. Unfortunately the tom yum paste used was too sour for our liking, and we definitely won’t be buying it again.

Ingredients (serves two)

  • 20 mussels (about 750g)
  • 1 small knob ginger, sliced
  • 3 tablespoon tom yum paste
  • 100g coconut milk
  • 1 litre water
  • Salt, fish sauce and sugar (to taste)
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 stalk of coriander; cut leaves for serving; stalks and roots set aside 
  • A handful of chopped lemongrass
  • 1 can of grass mushroom; drained and rinsed; cut into halves
  • 1 large tomato, sliced into 8 pieces

Instructions

  • Heat up pan with 1 litre of water.
  • Add ginger, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, coriander stalks and roots, tom yum paste, coconut milk and water; bring to boil. 
  • Add mushrooms, cook for 2 minutes. Adjust seasonings.
  • Add mussels and tomatoes; cover pan and cook for 5, 6 minutes.
  • Check that mussels are cooked. Turn off the heat.
  • Serve with rice.  

The final batch of mussels went into a dish of Curry Mussels, using a curry paste from Kwong Woh Hing that is normally used for curry chicken but turned out to be surprisingly good with mussels as well. The brinjal and lady’s fingers were good accompaniments and provided good texture contrast.

If you’re not familiar with Kwong Woh Hing, they are a traditional Singaporean soy sauce manufacturer but have expanded their offerings to include different types of local pastes and sauces. Try them out and I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised, as we were many years ago.

Ingredients (serves two)

  • 20 mussels (about 750g)
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoon curry sauce (Kwong Woh Hing)
  • 100g coconut milk
  • 200g water
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 medium Japanese /Chinese brinjal (about 20cm); cut into finger size and soak in water (to prevent brinjal turning black)
  • 20 small lady’s fingers, cut into halves

Instructions

  • Heat up pan (medium heat).
  • Add curry sauce, ginger and ginger into pan; fry till fragrant (about 30 seconds).
  • Add kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk and water; mix well.  
  • Add brinjal, cover and cook for 3 minutes.
  • Add mussels and lady’s finger; cover pan and cook for 5, 6 minutes.
  • Check that mussels are cooked. Turn off the heat.
  • Serve with rice or bread.  

Our experience with this first purchase from Ah Hock Kelong was good, and we’ll definitely be looking to buy more from them. In addition to mussels, they also sell fish and other seafood. Based on the quality and freshness of their mussels, we’re confident that their other produce will be equally good.

Satellite photo credits: Google Maps

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, I may earn a commission. Thanks.

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