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De Laurentiis uses Peroni, an Italian beer, for this 20-minute dish, but any light-bodied lager will work and make a perfect drink pairing as well.
- 1 small fennel bulb, finely chopped
- 2 medium shallots, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 pounds mussels, scrubbed, debearded
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
- Toasted slices of country-style bread (for serving)
Heat oil in a medium pot over medium-high. Add fennel and shallots and cook, stirring often, until fragrant and beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add garlic, season with salt, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add mussels and stir gently once or twice to coat with oil. Pour in beer and stir once more to coat. Cover pot and steam mussels, stirring halfway through, until they open, about 3 minutes. (Discard any mussels that do not open.) Add butter to pot and mix until butter is melted into pan sauce and mussels are coated.
Transfer mussels and sauce to a serving bowl and top with tarragon. Serve with bread alongside for dipping.
Nutritional ContentCalories (kcal) 570 Fat (g) 31 Saturated Fat (g) 13 Cholesterol (mg) 130 Carbohydrates (g) 27 Dietary Fiber (g) 4 Total Sugars (g) 5 Protein (g) 38 Sodium (mg) 620Reviews Section
How to Make the Best Steamed Mussels
This illustrated step-by-step guide to the easiest steamed mussels recipe you’ll ever make is a great one to keep in your back pocket. It takes less than 30 minutes, as few as five ingredients, and it’s a cinch to memorize, because none of the measurements are set in stone. You can tweak ingredients as you please, but we’ve included three delicious variations to get you started.
Steamed mussels are a great choice for an easy dinner party–if you buy them fresh at the market you can simply open a bottle of white wine, pour yourself a glass, and use the rest of it to add to a delicious pan sauce that begs for a crusty baguette to sop up the juices.
This dish is impressive enough for company and probably not one you’d have every day (i.e., hello, Valentine’s Day dinner), even though fundamentally this recipe is so straightforward that you could easily have dinner for two on the table in a half hour on a weeknight. (With minimal cleanup too, since you don’t even have to measure just one pan, whether a skillet or a Dutch oven, will do it.)
Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven, $359.99 at Sur la Table
Once you’ve mastered this technique you can steam mussels effortlessly, anywhere, anytime—and feel free to buy a pound or two whenever they look particularly tempting at the fish market. You’ll know just what to do with them.
1. Pick Your Mussels
First, make sure you buy the freshest mussels available. Look for mussels that smell briny and like the ocean and throw out any with broken shells or that are unusually light or heavy. If a mussel is slightly open, tap it against the counter and it will trigger a reflex for the shell to close. If it doesn’t close, discard it.
2. Keep Them Fresh
Remember: Mussels are alive and you want to keep them as cold as possible in the refrigerator until you cook them. Spread them in a single layer and cover with a damp paper towel or in a colander on top of ice to help keep them as fresh as possible.
3. Prep the Mussels
Now it’s time to debeard your mussels! Scrub each mussel individually and you’ll see a tiny brown string (the beard) hanging from each one. Tug firmly with your fingers and pull this off of the mussel–some mussels are already missing the beard so don’t worry if you don’t see it. The beard isn’t harmful but it doesn’t taste good do the best you can to remove the beards from every mussel but no need to drive yourself crazy.
4. Build Your Base
Finely chop four cloves of garlic and one onion.
Heat a pat of butter in a large frying pan or Dutch oven over medium heat and when frothy add in the chopped garlic and onion. Add salt and pepper and cook until lightly softened, but not browned.
Add the mussels in one layer, and pour in enough white wine to fully coat the pan in about ¼ inch of the wine, butter, garlic, and onion mixture. Cover with a lid (or a baking pan if you don’t have a lid large enough) to steam the mussels and cook on medium-high heat for a few minutes.
Check on the mussels after about five minutes to see if they’ve opened up, which indicates that they’re done. Shake the pan to distribute the sauce evenly. If the majority of mussels have opened, take the pan off the heat. But don’t hesitate to keep on the heat for a few minutes until most of the mussels have opened–throw out any outstanding mussels that haven’t opened to be on the safe side.
6. Plate, Booze, Enjoy
You can serve your delicious steamed mussels directly from the pan, or pour the broth into a shallow bowl and serve with a baguette. Sprinkle a dash of Pernod (an anise spirit) on the cooked mussels if you’re so inclined. A squeeze of lemon is also a welcome addition.
Pernod, $35.99+ on Drizly
Then sit back and enjoy the one-pan masterpiece you’ve made in under 30 minutes:
Steamed Mussel Recipes
Try some variations on the classic flavors when you’re ready to branch out.
Smoked Chile Mussels
Green chiles and red bell pepper join the onion for this one, which also features garlic, chipotle, smoked paprika, and cumin (just for starters). Get the Smoked Chile Mussels recipe.
Red Curry Mussels
This wine-free mussel recipe has a Thai twist, with red curry paste, lemongrass, and coconut milk in the mix. It’s finished with fragrant Thai basil and fresh lime. Get the Red Curry Mussels recipe.
Mussels with Fennel, Lemon, and Belgian Ale
A drizzle of cream enriches the sauce for this rendition, made with a slightly bitter Belgian ale instead of the usual wine. Fresh fennel gets sauteed with the onion to start things off. Get our Mussels with Fennel, Lemon, and Belgian Ale recipe.
Original story by the Chowhound Food Team, updated by Caitlin M. O’Shaughnessy and Jen Wheeler. All photos by Chris Rochelle for Chowhound, unless otherwise noted.
Mussels with Caramelized Fennel and Leeks
Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan. Cover, bring to a simmer and cook until the mussels open, about 3 minutes. Strain the broth and reserve the mussels.
In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the fennel and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 15 minutes. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and the fennel is lightly caramelized, about 8 minutes more. Remove from the heat.
In a pot, melt the butter. Add the shallots and cook over moderate heat until softened, 2 minutes. Add the mussels and Pernod and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the mussel broth and the fennel mixture. Cover and cook until the mussels open, about 5 minutes using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a large bowl as they open.
Bring the broth to a simmer. Whisk in the crème fraîche and season with salt. Add all of the mussels and cook until hot. Transfer the mussels and broth to bowls garnish with tarragon. Serve with toasted baguettes.
A salad of mussels and grapefruit
Curiously appealing: salad of mussels and grapefruit. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
There is something curiously appealing about a refreshing salad on a cold day. The crispness of fennel, the citrus notes of grapefruit and the clean, aniseed notes of fresh dill contrast with the rest of the carb-heavy winter offerings.
pink grapefruit 2, chilled
fennel 1 bulb
cucumber half a large one
parsley leaves a handful
dill fronds a handful
For the dressing:
reserved grapefruit juice 3 tbsp
olive oil 5 tbsp
small capers 2 tsp
Wash, check and remove the beards of the mussels. Tip the mussels into a large, deep pan. Pour in a cupful of water and place over a high heat, cover the pan with a tightly fitting lid. Bring to the boil then leave to steam for 2 or 3 minutes until the shells have opened. Remove from the heat, leaving them in the pan.
Remove the skin from the grapefruit with a sharp knife then remove the segments, saving as much juice as possible. Cut the fennel in half from tip to base and then into paper-thin slices and add to the grapefruit, tossing the fennel with the grapefruit juice to prevent it discolouring.
Peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthways then remove the seeds and core with a teaspoon. Cut into 1cm thick pieces and add to the grapefruit.
Pull the parsley leaves from their stalks, add to the salad then roughly chop the dill and fold that in, too.
In a small bowl mix together 3 tbsp of the reserved grapefruit juice (you can drink the rest), the olive oil, a grinding of salt and black pepper and the capers. Remove the mussels from their shells and add them to the dressing, then fold through the fennel and grapefruit, and serve.
The Observer aims to publish recipes for fish rated as sustainable by the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide
Garlicky Beer + Tarragon Steamed Mussels
- Author: Big Flavors from a Tiny Kitchen - Ashley Covelli
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1 x
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Grill
- Cuisine: American
Fire up the grill and crack open a cold one – we’re celebrating beer month in style with seafood, kielbasa and craft beer!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
- 1 1/2 pounds mussels, cleaned and debearded
- 4 cloves garlic, 3 smashed and 1 left whole
- 2 shallots, sliced (about 3/4 cup )
- 1 1/2 cups roughly chopped tomatoes
- 2 – 3 sprigs fresh tarragon (about 1 tablespoon of leaves), plus more for garnish
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 7 ounces kielbasa sausage, split in half lengthwise
- 12 ounces beer (I used 1 can of Old Chub Scotch Ale)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 baguette, sliced on the bias into 3/4 -inch thick pieces
- Place a large, flame-proof Dutch oven (preferably cast iron) on an outdoor grill and preheat to medium-high.
- While the grill is preheating, place the mussels in a colander and rinse under cold, running water. You can use a vegetable brush to scrub away any mud/debris. There’s a great tutorial on how to clean and debeard mussels over on Serious Eats if yours still have beards attached.
- Once grill is hot, add 2 tablespoons oil to the Dutch oven along with the 3 smashed cloves of garlic and shallots. Cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, tarragon, salt and pepper flakes and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened, about 5 minutes.
- While the veggies are cooking, brush sausage with oil and place cut-side down directly on the grill. Cook until it gets nicely charred, flip, and continue to cook until the other side is charred as well. Remove from heat to a cutting board and let cool slightly before slicing into half-moons.
- Once the tomatoes are soft, pour beer into the Dutch oven. Bring to a simmer, then add mussels, stir well, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Let the mussels cook, covered, stirring once or twice, until they have all popped open, about 7-15 minutes.
- While the mussels are cooking, brush both sides of the slices of baguette with oil. Place directly on the grill until nicely charred on both sides. Cut the tip off of the whole clove of garlic. After the bread comes off the grill, rub the cut side of the garlic clove on one side of each piece of baguette. Set aside.
- When the mussels have all opened, add the grilled kielbasa slices and butter to the Dutch oven. Stir until the butter melts and the sausage is incorporated.
- Divide the mussels and juices between 4 bowls, discarding any that didn’t open up while cooking. Serve with garlic bread alongside for sopping up the juices. Garnish with additional tarragon, if desired. Enjoy!
Keywords: mussels, beer, ale, grilling, tarragon, kielbasa, smoked sausage
Did you make this recipe?
Tag @bigflavors on Instagram and hashtag it #cookbigflavors
Wanna see what everyone else cooked up this year for Beer Month? Check out the roundup below!
Heather from All Roads Lead to the Kitchen made Mahi Mahi Burgers Glazed with IPA-Hoisin Barbecue Sauce
Julie from Bread Booze Bacon made Chorizo Queso Fundido
Matt from Nomageddon made Hush Puppies With A Smoked Cheddar Stout Dip
Sophia from NY Foodgasm made Dale’s Super Juicy Beer Can Chicken
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and fennel cook until just soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add the carrots and season with salt and pepper continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are just soft, about 4 minutes. Add the vermouth and boil to reduce slightly. Add the tomatoes and tarragon, then cover the pot and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
Stir in 1/2 cup water and the mussels. Raise the heat to high, cover and cook until the mussels open, 3 to 5 minutes. (Check halfway through and transfer any open mussels to a serving bowl.) Transfer all the mussels to a serving bowl, discarding any that do not open. Season the sauce with pepper and, if needed, salt, and pour over the mussels. Serve with the bread.
HOW TO CUT "BULB FENNELL"
Stand the fennel bulb upright (stems pointing up. Cut down through the bulb, cutting it in half, along the stem line. In other words, you'll be cutting each stem in half as part of the cut.
Now look at the inside of the bulb you've exposed. See that triangular thing starting at the bottom of the bulb and pointing upwards? That's the core, which is rock-hard. Cut it out of both halves of the bulb.
Now lay each half cut-side-down, stems facing right (or left, and make thin slices. What is "thin"? Try for 1/16" thick, but realize that you can't cut it too thin, and anything 1/8" or thinner is plenty thin enough
Steamed Mussels with Fennel and Tarragon - Recipes
Did you know that in just 5 minutes you could have a delicious serving of steamed mussels? One of Mother Nature’s original fast foods, mussels can be prepared in a variety of ways from steamed, baked, breaded, stewed, or tossed in a salad.
Click on each of the following to view recipes:
Steamed "Island Gold" Blue Mussels with Wine
Prep time: 2 minutes Cook time: 5-6 minutes
|2 lbs. Island Gold Mussels||2 oz. white wine|
|1 clove garlic (chopped)||2 tbsp. onion (chopped)|
Place wine, garlic, onion and mussels in saucepan, cook on high for 5-6 minutes or until mussels open. Serve with melted butter (optional).
"Island Gold" Blue Mussels Thai StyleIngredients:
|2 lbs. Island Gold Mussels||2 tbsp. Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce|
|2 cans coconut milk||2 tbsp. cilantro (chopped)|
|2 tbsp. fresh ginger (chopped)||1 tbsp. red curry paste|
Heat coconut milk, fish sauce, ginger and curry paste at medium high until sauce thickens. Add mussels and cook 5-6 minutes or until mussels open. Stir mussels into sauce, then sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Makes 4 appetizers or 2 main courses if served with Asian noodles or steamed rice.
|5lbs steamed Island Gold Mussels||1 litre canola oil|
|1/4 cup red wine vinegar||1 cup sliced red onion|
|1 cup chopped scallions||2 tbsp. dried thyme|
|3 cloves garlic (chopped)||salt & pepper|
Preparation: (Yields 6 appetizers)
Steam mussels in steamer for approximately 6 minutes. Place in bowl and let cool. Combine oil, vinegar, garlic, thyme, and salt & pepper. Add red onion and scallions and let stand for 1 hour. Pour marinade over mussels in bowl several times to evenly coat mussels. Mussels should soak in marinade for at least 1 hour and will keep for at least a week. Just before serving, pour a little of the marinade over mussels. Serve alone or add to pasta or salads.
Marinated Mussel Salad with Fennel and Citrus Vinaigrette
|1/2 cup (125 ml) Olive Oil||2 tbsp (15 ml) Orange Juice|
|1/4 cup (60 ml) White Wine Vinegar||1 tsp (5 ml) Dijon Mustard|
|2 tbsp (15 ml) Lime Juice||To taste Salt and Pepper|
|2 tbsp (15 ml) Lemon Juice|
Place mustard, vinegar, and citrus juices in mixing bowl and whisk.
Add oil in a slow steady stream while mixing constantly.
Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and fresh ground black pepper.
|4 lbs (1.8 kg) Mussels||1/4 cup (60 ml) Green Onions (Sliced)|
|1 cup (250 ml) Fennel (Thinly Sliced)||1/4 cup (60 ml) Basil (Chiffonade)|
|1 cup (250 ml) Carrots (Julienne)||1/4 cup (60 ml) Parsley (Chopped)|
|3/4 cup (180 ml) Citrus Vinaigrette||1/4 cup (60 ml) Garlic (Minced)|
|1/2 cup (125 ml) White Wine||2 tbsp (30 ml) Olive Oil|
|1/2 cup (125 ml) Onion (Sliced)||2 tbsp (30 ml) Fresh Tarragon (Chopped)|
|1/2 cup (125 ml) Red Pepper (Julienne)||1 tbsp (15 ml) Lemon Zest|
|1/2 cup (125 ml) Green Pepper (Julienne)||To taste Salt and Pepper|
|1/2 cup (125 ml) Yellow Pepper (Julienne)|
Saute onions and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for 3 minutes.
Add white wine and mussels, cover and cook on high until shells open (approximately 5 – 7 minutes).
Remove mussels from the pot and allow to cool and remove them from their shells.
Reduce the juice that is left in the pot by half. Cool and reserve.
Toss mussel meat, vegetables, herbs, lemon zest with 1 cup of cooled cooking liquid.
Add citrus vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.
Creamy "Island Gold" Blue Mussel Pasta
|1 lbs Dry Pasta (Linguini or |
Fettuccini is Recommended)
2 lbs Mussels
8 oz Cream (35% M.F.)
3 oz White wine
2 tbsp Minced shallots
1 tbsp Minced garlic
2 tbsp Chopped herbs
(such as dill, chives,
tarragon, and parsley)
2 tbsp Butter
1 tbsp Minced garlic
1 tbsp Olive Oil
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but a little firm (al dente). Cool the pasta and toss with 1 tbsp of the olive oil.
Melt 1 tbsp butter in a sauce pan and sauté shallots and garlic. Add mussels and white wine and bring to a simmer.
Cover and steam for 5 - 7 minutes (depending on size).
When the mussels are open, remove them and keep them hot. Reduce the liquid by half and add the cream. Reduce the cream until it starts to thicken. Add herbs and whisk in the remaining butter. Season with salt and fresh cracked pepper.
Re-heat the pasta in boiling water and place it into the sauce.
Continue to reduce the sauce until you reach the desired consistency.
Place the pasta and sauce in pasta bowls and garnish with the cooked mussels.
Steamed "Island Gold" Blue Mussels with Curry
|2 lbs Mussels |
3 oz White Wine
2 oz Heavy cream (35%)
1 Small Tomato (peeled,
seeded and diced)
2 tbsp Minced Shallots
1 tbsp Minced Garlic
1 tbsp chopped parsley
5 Fennel Seeds
1/2 tsp Pesto
1 Celery Stalk (finely chopped)
1 tsp Curry Powder
To taste Salt & Pepper
Place shallot, garlic, fennel seeds, celery, curry powder, and white wine in a sauce pot and bring to a simmer.
Add Mussels, cover and let steam for 5-7 minutes or until the mussels are open.
Remove mussels and place in serving dish.
Bring remaining liquid to a boil and add cream, tomato, parsley and pesto.
Season liquid with salt & pepper and pour over mussels.
Steamed "Island Gold" Blue Mussels with Tomatoes and Herbs
|2 lbs Mussels |
2 cups Chopped Whole Peeled
2 oz White Wine
2 tbsp Chopped Herbs (such as dill,
chives, tarragon, and parsley)
2 tbsp Minced Shallots
1 tbsp Olive Oil
1 tbsp Minced Garlic
1 tbsp Butter
a few drops Tabasco Sauce
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a sauce pot and sauté shallots and garlic. Add mussels and white wine and bring to a simmer. Cover and steam for 5 - 7 minutes (depending on size).
When the mussels are open, remove them and keep them hot.
Reduce the liquid in the pot by one third, add the tomatoes, and simmer for two minutes. Add herbs, butter, Tabasco sauce, and season with salt and fresh cracked pepper and stir.
Place the mussels in a bowl and pour the tomato broth over top and serve.
Steamed "Island Gold" Blue Mussels
|2 lbs Mussels |
8 oz Cream (35% M.F.)
3 oz White wine
2 tbsp Chopped herbs
(such as dill, chives,tarragon,
2 tbsp Minced shallots
1 tbsp Minced garlic
2 tbsp Butter
1 tbsp Minced garlic
1 tbsp Olive Oil
Melt 1 tbsp butter and sauté shallots and garlic.
Add mussels and white wine and bring to a simmer.
Cover and steam for 5 - 7 minutes (depending on size). When the mussels are open, remove them and keep them hot.
Reduce the liquid by half and add the cream. Reduce the cream until it starts to thicken. Add herbs and whisk in the remaining butter. Season with salt and fresh cracked pepper.
Place cooked mussels in bowls and pour the sauce over top or serve the sauce on the side as a dipping sauce.
1 leek (white part only), julienned
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 shallots, in 1/8-inch dice
400 g arborio or carnaroli risotto rice
1 cup white wine, preferably dry
1 l Lobster Stock (recipe below)
2 lobsters (tail and claw meat)
¼ cup grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Kosher salt or fine sea salt
Ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Pea shoots, sunflower sprouts or microgreens of your choice
Gently heat olive oil and butter in a heavy-based pan. Once hot, add the shallots and sweat until translucent. Add rice and cook, stirring, until the kernels start to crackle, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in wine and cayenne: simmer, stirring often, until all of the liquid has been absorbed, 2 to 4 minutes. Pour a ladleful of the simmering Lobster Stock over the rice. Let simmer, stirring constantly, until the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue adding stock, stirring occasionally and letting it absorb until the rice is al dente, 20 to 30 minutes. Note: You may not use all of the stock.
While rice is cooking, cut lobster tail meat into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside with whole claw meat pieces in fridge.
When rice is done, remove pot from heat and stir in the reserved lobster tail meat, Parmesan, chives, half the lemon zest and 2 tbsp of lemon juice. Taste and season with salt, pepper and additional lemon juice to taste. Lay claw meat pieces on top of finished risotto and cover until service.
Just before serving, loosen the risotto to the desired consistency with a little more broth and serve immediately. Drizzle each serving with olive oil sprinkle with lemon zest and chopped parsley.
Toss pea shoots (or other greens) with remaining lemon juice, a bit of kosher salt and a grate of pepper. Surround portion of risotto with greens.
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 leek (green tops only), chopped
2 lobsters worth of shells (bodies, legs, claw shells and/or tail shells)
In heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil and sweat onion, carrots, celery, leek and garlic until translucent and starting to get soft. Stir in tomato paste, thoroughly coating vegetables and cook for 2 minutes.
Ensure that lobster body shells contain no debris. Crush shells with knife handle or meat mallet and add to pot. Cook until golden-brown.
Drizzle brandy over shells. Flambé, then use residual moisture to deglaze pot. Add thyme and enough cold water to generously cover shells. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Reduce heat, add tarragon and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove pot from heat, let stand for 2 minutes, then drain through a fine chinois or sieve. Measure out a little more than 1 litre (2-1/3 pints) of stock into a clean pot, place over low heat and bring to a very light simmer.
Mussels are extremely versatile and nothing beats a pan of mussels. We add white wine and some vegetables, including carrot and fennel. Vary the ingredients. Replace the wine with beer and choose the vegetables you like. Serve with chips or French bread.
Rinse the mussels generously with cold water. Broken mussels, or open mussels that remain open even after lightly tapping the shell have to be discarded. Heat the olive oil in a mussel pan and fry the onion, garlic, carrot, leek and fennel for a few minutes. Add the bay leaf and add salt and pepper to taste. Add a glass of water. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer to soften the vegetables a little. It makes it easier to eat and the vegetables have more flavour. Add the mussels to the pan together with the white wine. Bring to a boil and cover the pan with a lid. Let the mussels boil over a high heat for a few minutes until all shells are open. Shake once to make sure that the mussels down in the pan open as well. Garnish with the flat-leaf parsley.
Tip! Add a spoonful of crème fraîche when the mussels are cooked.
- Dutch bottom-culture mussels Bekijk dit product
THE MINIMALIST Aniseed and Fennel Add a Lilt to Mussels
MY craving for fennel-scented steamed mussels stems from a day in southern France more than 20 years ago, when I sat in a bistro and was planning rather timidly to order a salade nicoise. Just then, a huge bowl of powerfully fragrant mussels was delivered to a man at the next table, and I boldly changed my mind. The hot mussels were essentially tossed with fennel and fennel seeds, which I could see, but the licorice bouquet and flavor were far stronger than that combination alone could provide.
Later, I realized that there had to be a secret ingredient: anise liqueur, either Pernod or Ricard. (There was a time when absinthe, made from wormwood, was used, but it was declared a harmful drug in France in 1915.) I've since discovered that there is indeed another ingredient -- star anise -- that will yield the same intensity provided by the liqueurs, but I prefer to reserve it for anise mussels with an Asian flavor.
You can decide for yourself which method to choose to get your anise taste, and indeed just how strong that taste should be. There are many, many other herbs, spices, vegetables and other seasonings you can use for a licorice flavor. Think of anise seeds or ground anise five-spice powder ouzo or raki, the anise-scented liqueurs of the eastern Mediterranean tarragon, chervil, even basil -- especially Thai basil. (You could probably throw in a few pieces of Good & Plenty while you're at it.)
Fresh fennel works especially well here because you can add it in a large enough quantity that it becomes an essential component of the dish -- not just a flavoring, but a vegetable as well. And the timing is perfect: in the short time it takes to steam the mussels, the fennel becomes tender but not mushy. I like fennel seeds, too, not only for their flavor but also for their satisfying crunch.
As for the mussels, there are increasing amounts of the cultivated kind on the market, most often from Prince Edward Island, which is fast becoming the mussel farming capital of the East. These are easy to clean (almost clean enough to eat without washing, but still worth a quick going over), with plump meat and very few rejects.
They are, however, quite bland. There is no better-tasting mussel than a good wild one. Unfortunately, they're usually harder to clean, with a higher percentage of broken shells and occasionally shriveled, small meat. When you're buying mussels, check the shells carefully, and even ask for one to be opened if possible.
Soaking is really not necessary with any mussels, but thorough scrubbing is. (This is much easier with the farm-raised ones because they are often grown on ropes.) You also must remove the '𧯪rd,'' the vegetative growth on the flat side of the shell. Any mussels that don't close when tapped lightly against a hard surface (the counter or sink, another mussel, or a spoon) are dead and must be discarded, along with any that have broken shells.
FENNEL-STEAMED MUSSELS PROVENCAL
Time: 15 to 30 minutes, depending on cleaning time
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 fennel bulb (about 1 pound), trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1/2 cup Pernod or Ricard (or 4 star anise)
1 cup chopped tomatoes, if desired (canned are fine, drained first)
1 sprig tarragon, if desired
At least 4 pounds large mussels, well washed.
1. Place the oil in a large pot and turn the heat to medium 1 minute later, add the garlic, fennel, fennel seeds, liqueur, and tomatoes and tarragon if you're using them. Bring to a boil, cook for about 1 minute. Add the mussels, cover the pot, and turn the heat to high.
2. Cook, shaking the pot occasionally, until the mussels open, 5 to 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the mussels and fennel to a serving bowl, then strain any liquid over them and serve.
Variation: To make the dish Asian style, combine the mussels in a cold pot with 1 cinnamon stick, 4 star anise, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 tablespoons water. Cover and cook as above in Step 2. If possible, toss with about 1/2 cup of torn Thai basil leaves.