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Spicy Fennel Mussels

These Spicy Fennel Mussels are bright and flavorful with the perfect kick of spice (don’t worry; they’re not too spicy!) and are incredibly easy to make.

Overhead view of spicy fennel mussels in a white bowl with a side of garlic bread on a colorful striped placemat with recipe title at top

I hope everyone on the East Coast is doing OK after yesterday’s Hurricane Sandy. Things in Boston weren’t too bad, but I worked from home and am glad I did. Things seem to be back to normal this morning, though I know lots of people are without power. But that’s nothing compared to what I saw happening in New York City and other spots. My thoughts are with all of you!!

Please don’t make fun of me. There’s a reason this blog is called “We are not Martha,” after all. I’ve definitely come a long way in the last five years to the point where I cook and bake several times a week and usually experiment with my own original recipes. But there’s still a lot I haven’t even begun to do. A lot a lot. Like mussels.

For some reason, I have never ever cooked mussels. Until now. I was on my way out the door to the grocery store when I started flipping through cookbooks and kept seeing mussel recipe after mussel recipe that just looked so good. So, I said to myself, “if mussels aren’t crazy expensive, I’ll pick some up at the store today.”

Well. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me mussels are insanely cheap?? $3.99 for 2 pounds?? I didn’t believe the price tag and asked the guy a the fish counter to verify about 80 times. I’m pretty sure he thought I was an idiot. And I was. But I’m not anymore. So, I made mussels for my first time ever. And they were amazing. And now I want to have mussels every single night. And I can totally afford to. No, I’m still not over how cheap they are. Life is beautiful.


Cooking mussels means cleaning mussels. And cleaning mussels means de-bearding them. I mean, really? It’s definitely a weird concept to pull the beard off of a sea creature. Especially while it’s still alive. Sorry. Anyway, this is definitely the toughest part of this recipe as it takes a little bit of elbow grease and some time.

Overhead view of cleaned mussels sitting in water

So, how do you clean a mussel? First of all, start by checking to make sure all your mussel shells are closed. If you see any that are open, gently tap them on the side of a bowl and if they don’t close up in a couple minutes, discard them. Also discard any mussels that have cracked shells.

Then gently scrub the shells of all of your mussels. You just want to get rid of anything icky that happens to be stuck to the shells.

Now for the beards! First of all, you should know that the beards aren’t harmful and you certainly don’t have to remove them. They just don’t taste great and in my opinion, are kind of icky, so I always remove. Also, I’ve had some batches where pretty much all my mussels have beards and others where almost none of them do (they’re sometimes removed when they’re being processed), but I still go through each one as I’m cleaning it to check.

How do you know if your mussels have beards? You’ll see some little brown threads right at the crack where the mussel opens. All you have to do is lightly pinch these threads and tug them side to side until they pull out. It definitely feels a little weird, but it should be fairly quick and easy.

And now your mussels are ready to be turned into spicy fennel mussels and consumed!


I absolutely love fennel and am always looking for new ways to cook with it. The bright springy notes of fennel go really well with seafood and help make for a really robust and lovely broth for mussels. Of course, I like to add a little spice to brighten things up even more. This spicy fennel mussels dish is perfect for serving any time of year as it’s light and bright for hot weather, but also warming and comforting for the colder months.

Overhead view of sliced fennel on cutting board

If you’ve never cooked with fennel before, you might appreciate a handy little tutorial for chopping fennel (don’t worry, it’s easy!).

Once your fennel and onion are chopped, you’re ready to go. Put olive oil in pot over medium heat. Once oil is hot, add onion, fennel, and salt.

Cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, until onions and fennel are tender and jus starting to brown. Then stir in minced garlic and cook for another minute.

Now stir in the wine, vegetable broth, and red hot pepper flakes.

Collage showing process for cooking fennel and onions for mussels, including fennel and onions in saucepan, fennel and onions browning in saucepan, and fennel and onions sitting in broth with red hot pepper flakes

Now it’s time to add the mussels to the pot. Simply put mussels in broth, cover, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Collage with one photo showing mussels just added to broth and another photo showing mussels cooked in broth and opened up

Discard any mussels that haven’t opened up during the cooking process. Serve mussels in a bowl with broth poured over. Sprinkle on parsley.

I also highly, highly recommend serving these mussels with garlic bread. You absolutely won’y regret it and you’ll be thrilled to have a little something to sop the extra broth up with. Plus, the bread makes this dish a happily well-rounded meal.

Head-on view of spicy fennel mussels in a white bowl with side of garlic bread on a colorful striped placemat

Sure, you can serve spicy fennel mussels as an appetizer and I probably will for a future dinner party. But I believe these also make a completely satisfying and filling meal.

You can make fun of me for never having made mussels before, but I am a changed woman now, I tell you. A changed woman. And I’ve basically been dreaming up a billion other ways I can enjoy mussels now. See? That’s all it takes. I need to learn a certain technique or skill and then I run off and begin inventing. And I absolutely love that I can add mussels to my repertoire.

But back to this particular recipe. Heaven. I’m a huge fennel fan (I take after my parents who my sister and I lovingly refer to as “fennel people”) and loved that this dish was packed full of the tender vegetable and subtle flavor. Fennel can definitely be a super strong flavor, but when sautéed first, it mellows a bit and simply tastes like comfort. At least to me.

Landscape head-on closeup view of spicy fennel mussels in white bowl

I wonder what the numbers would come out to if you added up all the recipes I’ve cooked with some element of spiciness over the last five years. Sorry to any spicy-haters out there. But you obviously know you can add less (or more!) of any spice I go crazy with. Don’t worry; these mussels aren’t overly spicy; it’s a nice muted heat.

Oh, and the mussels themselves. Hello. Totally worth the whole de-bearding thing. I love their slight chewiness because it’s chewiness in the best way possible. They have a certain creaminess to them, almost like a mushroom. But with a much more mild flavor. In fact, if you’re not generally a seafood person because you don’t like “fishiness,” try mussels. Especially try them in a spicy fennel broth. With lots of garlic.

Overhead view of spicy fennel mussels in a white bowl with a side of garlic bread on a colorful striped placemat

Mussels are also wonderful in curry broths. And while I’ll definitely be making these spicy fennel mussels again, I’m also planning on experimenting with and posting more mussel recipes here in the future. I’ve got big ideas, friends. And for $3.99 for two pounds of these babies, I can make my big ideas reality.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy mussels?

True to my word, since I posted this recipe, I’ve made mussels many, many more times. A couple of my favorite recipes include this Lemon and Fennel Risotto with Mussels and these Grapefruit Shandy Mussels with Grapefruit Linguine. I also really want to try these Thai Mussels from The Food Blog!

Spicy Fennel Mussels

These Spicy Fennel Mussels are bright and flavorful with the perfect kick of spice (don't worry; they're not too spicy!) and are incredibly easy to make.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Appetizer, Entree
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Fennel Recipes, Mussels Recipe, Weeknight Dinners
Servings: 2 servings
Author: Sues


  • 2 lbs. mussels, cleaned with beards removed
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/2 Tbsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley


  • Put olive oil in pot over medium heat. Once oil is hot, add onion, fennel, and salt. Cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, until onions and fennel are tender and jus starting to brown. 
  • Stir in minced garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the wine, vegetable broth, and red hot pepper flakes.
  • Add mussels to broth, cover, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until mussels are all opened. Discard any mussels that haven't opened during the cooking process.
  • Serve mussels in a bowl with broth poured over and parsley sprinkled on top.


  • I highly recommend serving these mussels with a side of garlic bread.

18 Responses to "Spicy Fennel Mussels"

  1. Blog is the New Black says:

    Thought the same thing the first time I bought mussels…. and funny enough, I am making some this week! YUM!

  2. Ashley Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine) says:

    I’m going to feel super accomplished when I finally make mussels! I think seafood is most difficult to do well, it’s a goal of mine.

  3. Nicole says:

    I had the same epiphany the first time I made mussels. So easy, so cheap and it looks (and tastes) so dang fancy. Love them! I like the classic white wine and shallot preparation, but I made a coconut water and lemongrass version that was really great, too.

  4. Gia Grossman says:

    I’ve actually never made mussels either. And I had no idea they were so simple and inexpensive. I do order them lots when I go out so I should probably get on making them!

  5. Erica says:

    I’m definitely intimidated by making mussels at home! Yours look like they came out absolutely perfect!!

  6. Andreea says:

    Mussels are awesome!!! I buy them whenever I find them at my store (which unfortunately is not too often now that I moved) and I almost always make a French tomato-cream based recipe because the sauce is so delicious, but I keep thinking I should branch out and make them either with fennel or maybe something with bacon now that is cold outside. Lovely pictures btw 😉

  7. Pam says:

    I bet the fennel made these mussels extra special!

  8. Maggie @ A Bitchin' Kitchen says:

    This looks great! I’ve only had mussels one time ever (and it was only 1 mussel that I stole from my dining companion) but I’ve been wanting to try them again.

  9. Daisy says:

    I cooked mussels for the first time last year and it was also somewhat of a revelation to me how inexpensive they were. I did mine in a red sauce but I also remember adding lots of hot pepper AND parsley. both of those are key!!

  10. Emily @ A Cambridge Story says:

    Love the sound of fennel in this dish! I’ve only made mussels once at home – they’re surprisingly straightforward to prepare!

  11. Biz says:

    My husband makes me a spicy chorizo sausage mussel dish – its amazeballs. Even though he throws up in his mouth a bit when making it for me because he hates mussels!

  12. Kitchen Belleicious says:

    you can never go wrong with mussels and especially spicy ones! Love this

  13. Susan says:

    Oh wow, I love a good mussel dish! I wish my husband loved them as much as I do. Maybe a spicy preparation would be more to his liking. I’d love to give it try! A couple of years ago I was assigned a spicy chorizo mussel dish for our gourmet group with was delicious. I’m pretty sure I posted it.

  14. Betty says:

    I love mussels, but I’ve never prepared them myself. These sound wonderful though. Maybe I’ll get up the courage to make them. 🙂

  15. Joanne says:

    I’m so glad to hear you conquered your mussels fear! And wow I had no idea they were so cheap either…crazy!

  16. AllieBeau says:

    I have never purchased mussels, either, mostly because the term “de-bearding” somewhat skeeves me out. BUT. That price point is changing my mind. As is the fennel. Love me some fennel. Sounds like a lot of us are fearful, thanks for showing us the way!!

  17. Odetta says:

    Holy heck mussels are cheap- who knew! These look pretty much perfect!

  18. Alice says:

    Mussels have always sounded hard to prepare. I’m definitely going to have to try this recipe! I want to be a changed woman too! Thanks!

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