Mussels w/ Fennel & Sausage

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I’m living in Belgium and when it comes to Belgian food the first thing I think of is mussels. Here in Belgium there are restaurants in every city and town that sell mussels. Sometimes they are simply steamed while other times they are come to the table dripping in sauces of all imaginable flavors. As more than one person has told me, even those people who don’t like mussels grow to love them during their stay here since you can always find a sauce that is pleasing to your taste buds. Personally, I’ve always loved mussels. Growing up I remember pulling them from the rocks during low tide at Pemaquid Point, Maine. Once home we’d scrub them then steam them up in huge pots. When Glenn was deployed one of my favorite dinners was a platter of mussels that had been steamed in garlic and white wine. I’d sit in the living room watching “chick flicks” , eating my mussels and washing it all down with the leftover wine. And one of my favorite meals in Albania was mussels steamed with tomatoes and herbs eaten alongside slabs of peasant bread. Like most shellfish, eating them requires a bit of work but the effort is worth it.

This recipe is an adaption of one published in Food 52. I love all of the components but I jumped on this recipe as an enticement to introduce the wonders of mussels to my family. The sausage and fennel were hits and the mussels received mixed reviews from the littlest family member. Personally I loved them and can’t wait make this dish again. Serve the mussels with a loaf of crusty bread to soak up the juices and enjoy.

MUSSELS w/ FENNEL & SAUSAGE

2 pounds fresh wild mussels

1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage

2 large fennel bulbs, sliced thin, fronds reserved

1 large shallot, sliced thin

3 cloves garlic, sliced thin

3/4 cup Pernod

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup half & half cream

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 pinch saffron, dissolved in 2 tablespoons of warm water

  • Rinse and clean mussels, discarding any that will not close.
  • Remove the sausage from its casings. Place one tablespoon of olive oil in a lidded pot large enough to hold the mussels. Set the pot over medium heat and add the sausage. Cook, crumbling until browned, 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Set the sausage aside, leaving the fat in the pot. Add another tablespoon of olive oil.
  • Add the fennel and the shallots and saute over medium heat until the fennel softens and begins to  caramelize.
  • Remove the fennel and shallots and set aside with the sausage.
  • Add the remaining olive oil to the pot with the garlic, red pepper flakes, and saffron. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Add the Pernod and bring to a boil.
  • Add the rinsed mussels to the pot, cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, shaking occasionally, until the mussels open.
  • Add the half & half, sausage and fennel to the pot. Cook an additional 3 minutes, shaking the pot a few more times.
  • To serve, sprinkle the mussels with the reserved fennel fronds.
Serves 2-4
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