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12.9.14 Steamed Mussels with Fennel, Tomato, and Saffron Broth

12.9.14 Steamed Mussels with Fennel, Tomato, and Saffron Broth

I must admit, I made it pretty far in life before I ate my first mussel. The day I did though, I was sold. It was a cold wintry day a few years ago, and at a local restaurant, I decided to order a bowl of steamed mussels. A big, giant bowl, chock full of hot, fragrant broth, and shiny black mussels, with a side of crusty bread. It was heavenly. Based on their utter deliciousness, and my limited knowledge of shellfish cookery at the time, I assumed that mussels were either incredibly expensive, or incredibly difficult to cook, or both. Turns out I was very wrong.


Not long after my first mussel experience, I decided to try making some of my own. Forrest absolutely cannot stand mussels (what? I know), so I decided to make some with a good friend who is also a big fan of these delicious bivalves. This was also smart, because she, unlike me, had some previous experience with mussel cookery. We made a delicious broth, threw in the mussels, and in just a few minutes, our delicious mussels were ready to eat. I remember thinking, wow, can it really be this easy? Yes, actually it is.


So now, mussels are a thing I make much more frequently. They’re relatively inexpensive, and so simple to make. The end result is a warming, rustic dish, ideal for cold weather. Really, it’s hard to think of any reason why one shouldn’t make mussels more often. Unless, like me, your husband won’t go near them. But honestly, that’s not a huge problem either - more mussels for me. Seriously though, they are absolutely delicious; swimming in a broth of fennel, white wine, tomatoes, and a pinch of saffron; topped with fresh parsley with some crusty bread to sop up every last bit of broth, it really doesn’t get much better, does it?

Steamed Mussels with Fennel, Tomato, and Saffron Broth

serves 2

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 1 small fennel bulb, diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • pinch of saffron
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1-1 ½ lbs mussels*
  • chopped fresh parsley and crusty bread for serving

1. Heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel, garlic, paprika, salt, pepper, and saffron, and cook until vegetables soften, about 4-5 minutes.

2. Add the wine, cook 1 minute, then add the tomatoes and bring to a boil.

3. Add the mussels, cover pot, and cook, shaking pot occasionally until mussels are cooked, and their shells open, about 3-5 minutes. Discard any mussels whose shells do not open.

4. Place cooked mussels into 2 large bowls, and taste the broth in the pot, adding any additional salt to season if needed. Pour broth other mussels, and sprinkle liberally with chopped fresh parsley. Serve with warm bread.

*Mussels are incredibly easy to prepare, but there are a couple of important things you should know when cooking them:

  • First off, before cooking, throw away any mussels with broken shells; these are likely no good.

  • If the mussels you got have not already been cleaned, you may need to debeard them, which is less exciting than it sounds, but really not difficult at all. Here’s some detailed info on how to do this.

  • Mussels are actually alive when you cook them! In fact, you should only cook mussels that are still living. Here’s how to tell: The mussels’ shells should be tightly closed; if any are open, tap on the mussel shell, and it should clamp shut. If the shell remains open, it’s no longer alive - throw it away.

  • After cooking your mussels, only eat the mussels whose shells open up. If, after cooking, a mussel is still tightly closed, throw it away.

  • In general, a good mussel should be tightly closed before cooking, and nicely opened up after cooking. Any mussels that don’t follow this rule should not be eaten.

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