Superstition led the Red Sox to grow their beards for the 2013 World Series, and a successful public health campaign dubbed “Movember” has men across America growing facial hair for men’s health awareness every November. Mussels, however, grow their beards year round. The hair-like substance protruding from their shells helps to attach themselves to rocks in the stormy and rough sea of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. For 20,0000 years, humans have eaten the meat of these bivalves. The ultimate one pot meal, these eco-preserving, easily-farmed, water-filtering sea creatures are sweet and satisfying. This is a tarragon-infused and slightly creamy recipe with a subtle touch of Pernod. Use the grilled bread to sop up the juices in the bottom of the bowls and sip a glass of dry rosé Sancerre such as Lucien Crochet for the ultimate light summer meal.
Ingredients for the mussels broth
- 2 leeks, sliced
- 1 cup diced tomato
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
- 4 sprigs tarragon
for the caramelized fennel and leeks
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and cored, thinly sliced 1/2” lengths
- 2 leeks, light green and white parts only, 1/2” slice
for the mussels
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 5 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- 1/4 cup Pernod
- 8 ounces crème fraîche
- 2 tablespoons tarragon leaves, chopped
- Kosher salt
- Olive oil
- 8 slices country bread
- Tarragon sprigs, for garnish
- Combine all of the ingredients for the broth in a MEDIUM SAUCEPAN. Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until the mussels open, about 3 minutes. Strain the broth, and reserve the mussels.
- In a 12” FRYING PAN, 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 LARGE POT, melt the butter. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 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.
- Brush both sides of the bread with olive oil and cook on top of the stove in a GRILL PAN, an outdoor grill, or toast in the oven at 350 degrees F. until golden.
- Bring the broth to a simmer. Whisk in the crème fraîche and season with salt. Add the chopped tarragon and all of the mussels and cook until hot.
- Divide the mussels among 4 serving bowls, ladle the broth over each bowl, and serve immediately with the toasted bread.
Like much shellfish, mussels are sold and cooked live, as once they die, they spoil very quickly. At the grocery store or fishmonger, look for mussels that are sold on ice and that have wet-looking, shiny shells. A dull shell is an indication that the mussel might have died. Also ensure that the shells are tightly closed and not chipped, as these are further indications of freshness. Discard any open mussels when cleaning and de-bearding and discard any closed mussels that did not open when steamed. A hand-held mandoline makes slicing the fennel a piece of cake. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and run under cold water to remove any dirt that has been trapped among the leek’s leaves. The caramelized fennel mixture may be made up to 2 days in advance. Arak or ouzo may be substituted for the Pernod.
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