With some foods, it can take me several attempts to start to appreciate their flavor. Like it happened with raw oysters and soft goat cheese, of which I cannot get enough now. With others, it is love from the first bite. Like it was with steamed mussels.
Ivory colored, plump, tender, meaty, succulent and incredibly delicious, what’s there not to love? Sadly, with times the quality of mussels in Seattle seems to have gone downhill, both in stores and restaurants. Somehow, their flesh grew smaller, drier, and fishier, and recently I started to think that probably it’s not about mussels, but about natural human tendency to think that everything was better in the good old days.
Fortunately for me and for all you mussel fans out there, my thinking was proved wrong by Taylor Shellfish Farms who brought good old day mussels back to town. They deliver to many Seattle restaurants (this is how I learned about them) and now have a great little store on Capitol Hill, where they sell fresh shellfish and other seafood and serve shucked oysters along with couple of chowders and a choice of beer and wine.
If you love mussels, I seriously recommend you to check this place out. Mussels are truly great there. And truly great mussels don’t need much - just quick cooking in a well-flavored liquid, nice crusty bread and a decent bottle of wine.
I have a variety of favorite cooking liquids and flavorings for mussels, but since we are still on a diet (sorta, kinda), I’ll start with the one that fits my diet best.
For the cooking liquid I use dry white vermouth and chicken stock along with a little splash of anise-flavored Pernod or Pastis or herbal-based liqueurs like Benedictine or Damiana. To spice the cooking liquid up, I take paprika and a pinch of saffron. And for the additional ingredients I choose andouille sausage, fennel and cooked garbanzo beans which turn this mussel appetizer into a whole meal. Since the cooking liquid here is almost like a soup, it can be eaten with a spoon instead of being dipped up with bread. Garbanzo beans seem to me a lighter and healthier starch than several pieces of white bread. But if you’re not on a diet, why not to have both?!
You will need:
- 2 lb mussels (I had Mediterranean mussels, they are at peak season now)
- 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 Andouille sausage, sliced lengthwise into thin strips, then chopped across
- 1 medium fennel bulb, quartered and thinly sliced, leaves saved for garnish
- 1.5-2 cups chicken stock
- ¼ cup dry white vermouth
- A splash of Pernod, Pastis, Damiana or Benedictine
- 1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- ¼ - ½ tsp paprika
- A pinch of saffron (abut 5-6 threads)
- 1-2 tsp chopped parsley (optional)
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 3 Tbsp mild olive oil for sautéing or mixture of olive oil and canola oil
- Crusty white bread, for serving (optional)
Wash the mussels thoroughly, brushing the shells with a firm kitchen brush, if needed, and remove the beards. Discard any open one that doesn’t snap shut after being tapped with a finger.
In a large pot or spacious sautéing pan, heat oil. Add andouille sausage and fennel slices and cook on a medium heat until the fennel starts getting softer and andouille becomes lightly golden. Stir in garlic, paprika and saffron and in several seconds pour in Pernod or another liqueur. Let it simmer down slightly and add vermouth, chicken stock and garbanzo beans. Cook for about 5-7 more minutes and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Increase the heat to medium high and bring the sauce to a simmer. Arrange the mussels on top, cover the pot with a lid and cook, shaking the pot every now and then, until the mussels open, about 4-5 minutes. Help the half-open mussels open wider with tongs and discard the mussels that failed to open at all.
Sprinkle the mussels with fennel leaves and parsley, if using, give a stir and serve right away.