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.
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.
HOW TO CLEAN MUSSELS
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.
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.
SPICY FENNEL MUSSELS RECIPE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.