Steamed Mussels with Fennel and Preserved Lemon Cream

Mussels are a weeknight dinner flex.

Sponsored by All-Clad

Preserved lemons are an alluring ingredient in tagines and chermoula, but the fun doesn’t have to stop at North African cuisine. They pack a salty punch like anchovies (hold the fishiness) and offer a complex sour flavor that you don’t get from fresh lemons. Unlike with fresh lemons, the rinds are the prized part—at once tender and meaty, tart and bitter—but the flesh is edible, too, so use it all. Adding sliced preserved lemons does wonders for nearly any seafood dish, but particularly stews and sauces. Here, they give depth and brightness to a creamy broth for steaming mussels.

Fennel also plays a big role in the flavor dynamic, and all parts of the plant are used, including the stalks (also edible!), fronds and pollen. Fennel pollen is the magic fairy dust that makes this dish extra special—and another ingredient worth seeking out—but ground fennel seeds are a fine substitute.

Because they are so quick to cook, and relatively inexpensive, mussels make an ideal weeknight meal that feels somewhat fancy, but also not. Just don’t forget the bread. Good bread is crucial for sopping up every last drop of that fennel-flecked, preserved-lemony broth.

Serves 2 to 3 as a main, or 4 to 6 as a party snack

Ingredients

  • 1 fennel bulb with tops attached
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (or black is fine)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 1/2 cup rinsed and sliced preserved lemons, seeds removed
  • 2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel pollen or ground toasted fennel seeds
  • Sea salt, if needed
  • Grilled or toasted rustic bread for serving

Directions

  1. Trim the base of the fennel bulb and cut off and reserve the stalks and fronds. Halve the bulb lengthwise and make a “V” cut in each half to remove the core. Thinly slice the bulb lengthwise following the natural ridges and the stalks crosswise into coins. Coarsely chop the fronds and set them aside for later.
  2. Heat the oil in a deep pan with a lid over medium heat until shimmering. Add the sliced fennel bulb and stalks, shallots, garlic, thyme sprigs and pepper, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes.
  3. Stir in the wine, crème fraîche and preserved lemons. Increase the heat to high to bring the mixture to a boil. Add the mussels and toss to coat, cover and steam until the mussels open, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the lid and discard any mussels that failed to open. Stir in the fennel fronds and fennel pollen. Taste the broth and add salt if it needs it.
  4. Serve the mussels directly from the pot at the table, ladling a good amount of broth into each bowl, with plenty of bread for dipping.

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