Steamed Mussels with Fennel and Sundried Tomatoes, A Christmas Treat With the Taste of Days Gone By
Steamed Mussels

A bowl of steamed mussels, in a broth so fragrant with garlic and fresh herbs that the taste fills your mouth before you've even slurped the first tender bite, is a food experience like none other. It makes a wonderful appetizer for a festive dinner, but it also makes a surprisingly good mid-week meal.

Mussels have adapted very well to sustainable farming methods and can now be found nearly year-round at any grocery store with a decent fish counter. They are usually sold by the pound and at prices that will leave plenty left in your wallet for a nice bottle of wine to go with dinner.

Back home, preparing the mussels for cooking only takes a few minutes. Give each mussel a quick scrub and discard any with cracked or broken shells. If the mussel is open, tap it gently against the counter and throw it away if it doesn't close within a few minutes. Most mussels are held in tanks to flush out grit and other impurities prior to being sold, but freshly harvested mussels may need to be soaked in cool salt water for a half an hour before cooking. Check with your fish seller to see if this step is necessary.

As you clean, check the mussels for beards. This will be the group of thin brown strings emerging from one side of the mussel. Officially called the Byssus Thread, these strings help the mussel to attach itself to fixed objects in the water. While beards aren't harmful to eat, they're also tough and not very pleasant. You remove it by grasping the threads with your fingers or a pair of tweezers and gently tugging them out using a side-to-side motion.

If you're not planning on cooking the mussels right away, keep them wrapped loosely in their packaging so they have airflow, and store them in the coldest part of your refrigerator. A damp dishtowel draped over the top of the mussels also helps keep them moist. Be sure to use them in a day or two.

The key to sweet and tender mussels is not over-cooking them. As soon as all of the shells are open and the mussels inside have turned opaque, they're done. This takes at most 10 minutes of steaming in a covered pot, and often less. Undercooked mussels won't open their shells and can be discarded.

Poured into a bowl so the broth catches in the open shells, this quick and restaurant-worthy dish is ready to eat right away. You can scoop out the mussels with a fork, pinch them in an empty shell, or tip them straight into your mouth. Any way you go about it, be sure to savor every bite.

Steamed Mussels With Fennel And Sundried Tomatoes Recipe

Serves 2-3

2 pounds mussels

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

1 small bulb fennel, thinly sliced

5 cloves garlic, minced

8 sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced

3/4 cup parsley, minced

1 cup dry white wine, like pinot grigio

2 tablespoons lemon juice, from 1/2 lemon

Zest from one lemon

1/4 cup heavy cream

Sliced baguette

Scrub the mussels clean and remove the beards with a pair of tweezers or needle-nosed pliers. Tap open mussels gently against the counter and discard any that do not close after a few minutes. Also discard any mussels with cracked or broken shells. Set the cleaned mussels aside.

Warm the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots, fennel and garlic, and cook until the fennel becomes soft. If the garlic starts to brown, lower the heat.

Stir the sundried tomatoes, 1/2 cup of the parsley, wine and lemon juice into the pan. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 5-10 minutes to give the flavors time to meld.

Increase the heat to medium and add all the mussels to the pan. Cover with a lid and cook for 7-10 minutes, until all the mussels have opened fully. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mussels to a serving bowl, discarding any that remain closed. Whisk the lemon zest and cream into the broth remaining in the pan and pour this over the mussels.

Sprinkle the mussels with the rest of the parsley and eat immediately. Make sure there is plenty of sliced baguette on hand to sop up the juices.

Emma Christensen is a writer for Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn

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