Friends often ask me how I come up with recipes. My favorite way to create dishes is to gather inspiration from what I see out in the market. What looks fresh? What looks appealing? I find myself loading my cart up with seemingly random ingredients and then dreaming up what flavors would taste best together. This is just what happened this weekend.
While shopping for clients Saturday afternoon, a bag of mussels caught my eye. I had a friend coming over for a quick bite before heading out for the night and thought mussels would be spot on, as they provide the perfect balance of satisfying but not too filling, which is key to keeping the night rolling. Nothing is worse then planning an evening out and cutting the night short because your meal weighed you down. (I’m looking at you, porterhouse!). My second consideration: mussels steam in 5 minutes, which meant with a little chopping, this was going to be fast and easy and I wasn’t going to be bogged down in the kitchen all night.
I thought about the different types of mussels I’ve had out and what I liked best about each of them. I knew I was in the mood for a white based broth, particularly because I had a delicious bottle of Chardonnay at home, along with some vegetable stock I made earlier in the week. Now what to layer the flavor base with? I recently had some garlicky mussels at a local bistro that were delicious, but loaded with butter. I wanted to keep my version on the lighter side, so I knew I needed lots of savory herbs and vegetables to make up for the flavor I was losing by lessening the butter. In addition to garlic, I picked up shallots, basil, parsley and a fennel bulb, full of subtle licorice flavor.
Off to my kitchen to experiment! And what an experiment it was. The key to successful recipe creation is constant tasting and tracking what’s been added. By tasting my broth (before adding the mussels) I found that even after it came together, it was still missing something. A quick perusal of my spice rack led me to add a dash of fennel powder, which lent the dish a sweet, sausage-y back note. With the flavor just where I wanted it, in went the scrubbed mussels. Five minutes later, we were happy eaters, ready to paint the town red!
Mussels in a White Wine Broth
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons butter
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, stems and core removed, thinly sliced (fronds reserved)
5 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Half a bottle of good white wine
1 pint vegetable stock
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fennel powder
2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed and beards removed, open mussels discarded
Zest of one lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
2 stems of basil leaves, chiffonaded
Leaves from 20 parsley stems, finely chopped
Reserved fennel fronds, finely chopped
Melt butter with olive oil in a large, high sided plan. Add shallots, fennel and garlic and sauté until translucent (about 5 minutes). Season with salt and pepper. Add wine, stock, mustard and fennel powder and bring to a boil. Add mussels and cover. Cook 5 minutes. Remove cover and discard any unopened mussels. Stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, basil, parsley and fennel fronds. Ladle mussels and broth into shallow bowls and serve with additional lemon wedges and toasted bread rubbed with garlic to soak up all of the savory broth. Enjoy!
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