Mussels for One (or Two)

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I learned to love mussels in college, when I spent many an evening with my beau at the Cadieux Café, located on the east side of Detroit where I grew up. The place had an amazing juke box and a stellar array of Belgian beers, and it served mussels in a multitude of ways: stuffed, steamed, on the half shell, or bathed in flavorful broths, there was a preparation for just about anyone. I love mussels to this day and indulge in them often, as they’re inexpensive, sustainable, and versatile, but this is probably my favorite way to eat them. The rule of thumb for an entrée portion of mussels is one pound per person, but I never seem to be able to finish a whole pound on my own – especially when you factor in the crusty bread that is an essential accompaniment to this dish. Your mileage may vary. – lastnightsdinner

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1.5 cups leek, sliced into thin half-moons, white and pale green parts only
  • 1 small bulb fennel, cored and chopped or thinly sliced (about 1 cup), plus a few fronds for garnish
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 1-2 pinches saffron threads
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 (or more, if you’re solo) fat cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) Pernod or other anise liqueur
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) white vermouth or dry white wine
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes with juice
  • 1 pound mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream


  1. Look over your mussels and discard any that have cracked or broken shells. They all should be tightly closed, but if any open mussels don’t close when you squeeze them gently with your fingers, discard those as well.
  2. Melt the butter in the olive oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid over medium heat.
  3. Add the leek and fennel, season with a pinch or two of salt, and cook until softened.
  4. Clear a space in the bottom of the pot and add the saffron, crumbling it with your fingers as you do, and lightly toast it before stirring it through the vegetables. Add the garlic and thyme, stir, and cook just until you can smell the garlic.
  5. Add the Pernod and vermouth or white wine, stir, and let cook for 2-3 minutes before adding the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 20-25 minutes.
  6. Add the mussels, stir, re-cover the pot, and cook for another 5-8 minutes or so, just until the mussels open (the timing will vary depending on the size of your mussels). Discard any mussels that don’t open.
  7. Stir the cream in off the heat, taste for seasoning, then spoon the mussels, vegetables, and sauce into a big, wide bowl – two, if you’re sharing. Sprinkle the fennel fronds on top, and serve with plenty of crusty bread.


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