I had been craving seafood for a while now, it being summer, and not too many seafood options come as tasty, as fast and to be totally honest, as cheap as mussels do. Three things I like. I don’t make mussels very often because my wife and I usually get our fill at a restaurant, and here in Philly there are plenty of good sources to choose from. But it had been awhile since we’ve had these sweet little bivalves, so I decided to get out my debearding tools (my thumb and forefinger) and make my own, which when done right is much more satisfying then just placing an order.
Mussels can be braised with many things, water, beer, wine and more, and I’ve had them many ways, but for this recipe I went with the classic, dry white wine. I also, spiced it up with some chorizo, which I think works great with shellfish; think gumbo. The fennel was absolutely delicious braised in the wine and added a nice gentle crunchy element to the dish, since fennel is so hearty. Finish everything with a touch of cream and some crusty bread and you have a restaurant quality meal right at home.
2lbs of Mussels
1 Fennel Bulb thinly sliced
5 Cloves of Garlic minced
1/2 Tspn Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 cup Heavy Cream
1 cup of White Wine
1 Tbs Olive Oil
So, I really do love mussels, but one thing I really don’t like is the cleaning process. As far as preparing this dish, it’s definitely the most time consuming part. First pick though the mussels and see if there are any that are cracked or open. If they are open and don’t close when you pick them up, put them on the counter while you clean the others. If they don’t close after a few minutes, say a prayer, it’s dead. Put the mussels in a bowl of cold water for 20 minutes. If they have any sand or grit in them, they should open enough to release it. This will also make the “beard” more accessible. The beard is also known as their byssal threads and is what they use to grip onto the sides of docks, each other, etc. These little bivalves like their beards and won’t like you yanking them out, so make sure you get a good grip on it before the mussel pulls the beard back into it’s shell. Make sure you pull the beard toward the hinge on the shell. If you pull it the other way you may pull the whole mussel right out of the shell. After debearding them, place the mussels in a colander and scrub them under cold water.
Phew, glad that’s over. Preheat the oven to 225º. Get a large pot with a lid that you think can hold everything. I used an enameled cast iron pot and it worked out great. Remove the sausage from its casing and heat the olive oil. Cook the sausage, breaking it up as it cooks and trying to get some browning on the meat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage to a sheet or bowl that can go in the warm oven. Leave the rendered fat from the sausage in the pot and add the red pepper flakes and fennel. If there isn’t enough fat left, just add a bit more oil before the fennel. Cook the fennel until it’s becoming transparent and then add the garlic. Season the veggies with a generous pinch of salt at this point. Before the garlic browns, add the mussels and right after the wine. Put the lid on the pot and cook for 3 minutes. Have your serving bowl ready. After 3 minutes remove the lid. The mussels should be open at this point and if you leave them in much longer they will dry out fast, but if they’re not open give it another minute. Spoon the mussels into your serving bowls and top with the sausage and braised fennel. Turn the range up to high and add the cream to the liquid in the pot. Cook for about 30 seconds and then ladle the sauce over the mussels. Serve with some good bread for dipping.