Maine Mussels: A Coffee Table Dinner
A few years back I got a great deal on a Staub Cocotte through Rue La La. I was so happy with my find! It’s such handsome cookware and typically so expensive…there was no way I could pass up the deal – I had to have one. Of course, I never use it.
Let’s switch gears for a minute: Tonight I was at Whole Foods doing my weekly grocery shop, when I happened upon the seafood counter and spotted some shiny black mussels hanging out in an ice crate by my feet. “Jones,” my trusted fishmonger noticed I was eyeing them and insisted on fetching me a fresh bag from the back. I obliged. Jones knows his seafood.
While I walked home I tried to remember where I put an old recipe I printed off the NPR website back when I lived in Chicago. I was convinced I was going to use this recipe until I actually found it in my recipe box and realized I was missing a crucial ingredient (bacon). Not that big of a deal… just another night winging it in our kitchen.
I have always had this theory about steamed mussels – that they can’t be all that hard to master - because so many restaurants do them well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ordered mussels out, and while placing the order I go ahead and ask for extra bread because I’m making an early bet the broth is going to be dunk-worthy and amazing. Looking back on countless orders, I’ve come to learn that a good batch almost always includes the following: 1) tons and tons of garlic and parsley, 2) a balanced combination of white wine and fish or chicken stock, and 3) a touch of cream.
Here’s what I threw into mine tonight:
STEAMED MUSSELS WITH FENNEL & CREAMY TOMATO BROTH
1 head garlic, coarsely chopped | 1 handful parsley, coarsely chopped | 1 heavy drizzle olive oil | 2lbs fresh mussels, beards removed | 1 soup ladle-full Rao’s Classic Marinara sauce (because Rao’s goes in everything) | 1 tsp Better Than Bouillon chicken concentrate (or 1 bouillon cube) | 1 c water | 2 c white wine | 1 fennel bulb, sliced finely | heavy cream – a splash or to taste
Saute the garlic, fennel and marinara sauce in the olive oil on medium heat. Once the liquid from the marinara is cooked-off, add the white wine. While the wine is reducing, add the bouillon and water. Cook on high until bouillon is thoroughly dissolved and liquid has reduced by 1/3rd. At this point, toss the cleaned mussels into the broth and cover. Check the mussels every minute or so until the majority have opened. When most have opened, remove with a slotted spoon and place in serving platter. Set burner to high and add the heavy cream. As liquid simmers, taste-test with a spoon until you have a desired thickness/consistency. Add parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Pour broth over mussels and serve immediately with toasted bread.