Steamed Mussels with Tomato and Fennel

March 3rd, 2008


I love mussels.  Adore them.  Happily order them any time I find them on a menu.  And I’ve been thinking about posting a recipe for them on here for months.  Months!  So it’s very sad that I’m only just getting around to it.

Here is the reason for the holdup: at my grocery story, when mussels are available, they are only available in four pound parcels.  And mussels are one of those dishes where you really need to cook and eat them within about 24 hours of buying them — they do not make good leftovers, as they toughen significantly after being cooked.  And, although I probably could eat all four pounds myself, I think that would probably detract from my love of mussels in the future.

But, of course, the farmer’s market saved me once again.  I arrived somewhat late on Saturday, and most of the fish filets were already gone, but there were still bins of mussels and clams, as if they were waiting just for me!  I happily ordered the reasonable portion of one pound of mussels, and gleefully thought about what vegetables to include in the broth!  (I’ve written the recipe to serve four, below, based on the same proportions.)


And here comes the secret ingredient I came up with: fennel!  Roasted fennel, to be specific.  Along with fresh (farmer’s market) tomatoes, I sliced up a bulb of fennel, roasted it, and added it to the wine and broth that the mussels steamed in.  Ok, I’ll admit, I ate a couple pieces of roasted fennel right out of the oven, but I promise most of the fennel went into the broth.

It’s easy to be a little bit afraid of cooking mussels.  In fact, before I made them for the first time, I wasn’t sure what a “beard” was, or when they should be open, or when they should be closed, or how to tell if a mussel is clean enough so that you don’t end up with any grit in your broth.  Fortunately, once you’ve made them once, you realize they’re actually very straightforward, and it’s not, actually, that easy to accidentally poison yourself.

These mussels, however, were a lot dirtier than the farmed ones I’ve cooked before (thanks, ocean).  I ran them under running water for probably about ten minutes to wash away any dirt and sand, and scraped off any algae or seaweed from the sides with my fingernails, and, of course, debearded them by pulling off the clusters of hairs in their crevices.  I was a little nervous that my cleaning wasn’t sufficient, but they tasted amazing, so I must have done ok.

And one last thing, before I get to the recipe.  Please, please please, please please — do not discard the broth when you’ve eaten all the mussels!  If you must, dunk a few slices of crusty bread into it and mop it up with that.  But think broadly — extra broth can be reduced on the stovetop and made into a delicious sauce for pasta or spaghetti squash, or used to flavor soups and stews with a seafood twist later on!  It’s intensely flavorful and deserves more than being thrown away.

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Steamed Mussels with Tomato and Fennel

4 pounds of mussels, cleaned and debearded
8 shallots, sliced thin
8 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
2 tbsp coarse sea salt
6 tbsp olive oil
3 fennel bulbs
12 small tomatoes, diced
4 cups dry white wine
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup chopped parsley
3 tbsp chopped fennel fronds
Parmesan cheese, as desired


1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Place the cleaned mussels in a large bowl.  If any are open, pinch them to see if they close.  If they don’t close, discard.  If they do close, put them in the bowl with the others.
3. Cut the fennel bulbs into wedges, and toss with 3 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp salt.  Place on a baking sheet and into the oven.
4. After about 10 minutes, remove the fennel from the oven and turn the wedges upside down.  Return to the oven for about 8 minutes, or until caramelized and tender.
5. When the fennel is done, chop it into 1/2″ pieces, and set them aside.
6. In a large stock pot, saute shallots and garlic in 3 tbsp olive oil, with 1 tbsp salt, until tender.
7. Add the white wine, vegetable stock, red wine, and tomatoes, and cook for about 8-10 minutes, uncovered, until tomatoes are cooked and the broth is somewhat thickened.
8. Add fennel, mussels, parsley and fennel fronds, cover.  Let cook for about 8 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened.
9. Remove from heat and discard any mussels that did not open.  Spoon broth and mussels into large bowls, garnish with freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired, and serve.

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer.

Tags: appetizers · food · main dishes

23 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ann // Mar 3, 2008 at 8:56 am

    How funny… I’ve also been thinking about posting about mussels for months! Guess I’ll wait a while longer. 🙂

    Your photo is just beautiful… and your recipe looks delicious, even if I do have a weird aversion to fennel (i really don’t know why, either, it just happened).

  • 2 Susan // Mar 3, 2008 at 9:13 am

    I love mussels and would never have thought of fennel with them, but now that you mention it sounds terrific.

  • 3 Elena // Mar 3, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Great, easy way to clean the mussels is to leave them in a bowl of water with some flour mixed in. You leave them for about a half hour and when you come back, they have released all of the sand.

    I saw Barefoot Contessa clean them this way on television and tried it the last time I made them and they turned out really well.

  • 4 Adele // Mar 3, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Mmm. This sounds absolutely delicious, and the photos are beautiful. 🙂

  • 5 Elle // Mar 3, 2008 at 9:48 am

    My husband has been asking me to make mussels for ages.  Like you were, I’m a bit nervous about the whole process, but I guess I should give it a try.  We both love fennel, and this sounds delicious.  Beautiful photos, too!

  • 6 katy // Mar 3, 2008 at 10:04 am

    Ann — I go back and forth on fennel too, but somehow it just worked really well here!

    Susan — Thanks!

    Elena — I will DEFINITELY try that next time — if it’s good enough for Ina, it’s good enough for me!

    Adele — Thanks!

    Elle — I promise, it’s actually pretty straightforward once you try it!

  • 7 mimi // Mar 3, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    i missed the farmer’s market this weekend, but so excited it’s getting warmer and all the new items that will now be arriving!

    your mussels sound delish with the roasted fennel. i usually go for the plain white wine garlic broth (with *maybe* tomatoes for something different) but love the idea of fennel with it. well definitely try this next time!

  • 8 Joy // Mar 3, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Yum!  I’m wary of ordering mussels at restaurants, unless I’m assured they fresh and the restaurant is reputable.  I know…I’m so picky.  LOL.

    Your dish looks heavenly.  I need to up my quota of seafood consumption.  Living with a non-seafood eater is challenging sometimes.

  • 9 kate // Mar 3, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    love love love mussels. Sadly dont get them here in Ghana. Never tried them with fennel , and i’m sure it goes really well. These look so appetizing.

  • 10 Donald // Mar 3, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Oh yes! We love mussels here too. I just did some in a Thai curry.

    To get them clean, I always have just let them sit in cold water for 20 minutes. As they breathe they release their sand. You should definitely twist the shells of them to see if the shell gives easily. If it is, it’s a “mudder”. You’ll want to discard that guy, ’cause when it opens, the mud…well it isn’t good eats.

    Another delicious post Katy.

  • 11 katy // Mar 3, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    Mimi — I know!  Every week, I look to see what’s new!

    Joy — Definitely understandable — I’ve had food poisoning once, and it was enough to justify serious food safety paranoia where shellfish are concerned.  A non-seafood eater, you say?  Sounds like a challenge to me…

    Kate — I would give up mussels to spend time in Ghana!!!  Thanks, though. 🙂

    Donald — Good advice!  I’ll be making these again soon, so I will definitely try that.  And thanks!

  • 12 MyKitchenInHalfCups // Mar 4, 2008 at 8:36 am

    My husband would love this.  He always orders them when we go out because I’ve never cooked them.
    Beautiful Katy.

  • 13 Kristen // Mar 4, 2008 at 10:51 am

    You make me miss my kitchen so much.  Although the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong is simply lovely, I miss cooking (and your cooking).  Am coming home soon. Can’t wait to see you!

  • 14 Cakespy // Mar 4, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Katy, this is an incredibly sexy lookin’-dish! I think Mr Cakespy would love this, if he weren’t a vegetarian. Oh well, I am not a vegetarian, so guess I will make this sexy meal for someone else! 🙂

  • 15 Kitt // Mar 5, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Wow, those look fabulous! I’m always a little leery of cooking shellfish at home (what if I get a bad one?) but have no qualms about ordering them in a (reputable) restaurants. Guess I should rethink that!

  • 16 Suzana // Mar 5, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    Sounds delicious – and the photos are fantastic!

  • 17 Susan from Food Blogga // Mar 7, 2008 at 8:17 am

    I made a similar dish last summer with Australian green mussels, which my a huge hit with my Dad! I’ll have to try your delicious recipe next time he comes. He adores mussels.

  • 18 Food History » Blog Archive » Carnival of the Recipes - Upside Down Edition // Mar 10, 2008 at 7:43 am

    […] I want to eat, but half of them I can’t eat. For instance, I can’t eat Katy’s lovely Steamed Mussels with Tomato and Fennel but I can most definitely rejoice in Christine’s Stuffed Peppers with Cheese (Poivron au […]

  • 19 Claudia (cook eat FRET) // Mar 17, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    i have yet to ever make mussels and i really want to…

    i think i once eard bourdain say that it is one of th things he will never order in a restaurant…

    i don’t even want to know why…

  • 20 Arvind Devalia » Food, glorious Food for Spring Time! // Mar 18, 2008 at 7:47 am

    […] Fennel! I use this ingredient a lot too – do check it out how Katy cleverly uses this – Steamed Mussels with Tomato and Fennel posted at […]

  • 21 Fresh From the Farmer's Market Blog Carnival #2 | Modern Beet // Apr 1, 2008 at 1:51 am

    […] recipe highlighting ingredients from the envy-inducing Union Square Green Market in New York City, Steamed Mussels with Tomato and Fennel. I have access to pretty fantastic farmer’s markets in northern california, but I have never […]

  • 22 diva // Apr 23, 2008 at 3:21 am

    you’re a woman after me own heart! jokes! i love mussels too..they’re so yummy it’s ridiculous how much i like em. great recipe here. and indeed, i get really nervous about cleaning them too. at first, i thought they looked very freakish and got all goosebumply when i touched them. but now, i’m never one to reject a plate of mussels. bring em here, mate, bring em here. 😉 great post! x

  • 23 Adria // Oct 3, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    I just discovered your blog after searching for mussel recipes, and now I’m really digging the photos and your gourmet girl-next-door style.  I will be making some granola and dog treats too, after finding the posts here, so Thanks! and the mussels turned out great. Roasting the fennel is a great touch.

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