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Mussels and Fennel in Ale

Mussels and Fennel in Ale

This is one of those devilishly simple recipes that is something of a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. (Unless your crowd aren’t fans of mussels, in which case, perhaps you should reconsider your allegiances.) The single most labor-intensive element of this recipe is the scrubbing of the mussels. It’s briny, salty, tangy, simple goodness. The beer adds a little tartness. The bread will be happily sopped and a loaf might disappear in minutes. The fennel is perfect here – it just barely flavors the broth but is a refreshing counterpoint in between greedy bites of mussel and bread. Make it for your friends the next time you have them over.

This Mussels and Fennel in Ale recipe is part of the March Seasonal Food Guide.

Serves about 4 as an appetizer
(inspired by CHOW’s version here)

Note: The test kitchen (aka my lovely sister) reported back with a glitch: the cream curdled when added to the broth. Following some awesome feedback on Food52’s Foodpickler, we’ve nailed it: 1) Make sure you’ve turned off the heat before adding the cream; 2) Try to find a low-acid Belgian ale. 3) Add the cream slowly.

1.5-2 pounds mussels in shells
1 medium fennel bulb, cored and sliced
1 12 ounce bottle Belgian ale
3 medium shallots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons cream (I used half and half)
salt +pepper to taste

crusty loaf of bread

It’s important to use mussels the same day that you buy them. Just before you begin, carefully place the mussels in a large bowl of cold water for about ten minutes. Scrub the mussels to remove any debris attached to their shells. Debeard them by either yanking the beard or slicing with a knife. If any mussels are open, tap them against the counter to urge them closed. If they remain open after a minute or two, they aren’t alive and should be discarded. Likewise discard any mussels whose shells are cracked or broken. When you place the mussels in the broth, you want to make sure that they all begin closed.

Heat a large pot over a medium flame. Add the tablespoon of butter. Add the fennel, shallots and garlic and stir. Saute them for about 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent anything from browning. When the fennel has started to soften, add the ale, mustard and parsley, along with salt and pepper to your liking. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

At this time, add the mussels. Again, make sure that they are all closed at this point. Cover and let them steam for about 5 minutes. When the mussels have opened wide, they are cooked. Remove them with a slotted spoon as they do so. Discard any mussels that don’t open.

When all the mussels are opened, turn off the heat. Stir in the two tablespoons cream. Add the broth to the mussels and serve in a large bowl, or divided amongst two or three smaller bowls. And have plenty of bread on hand!

  • Joanne - I’ve heard of ale being used in a lot of dishes but never with muscles! I bet the bitter beer tastes wonderful next to the buttery almost sweet fennel!ReplyCancel

  • Tine - The last time a ate a mussel is 12 years ago.
    Since then I always found mussels disgusting.
    But maybe I have to try it once more. Maybe I’ll like them after 12 years… :)
    Just like chicory and Brussels sprouts: as a kid I always hated them, but now I adore it!ReplyCancel

  • NicoleD - Yes, please! I am sad to report that I’ve only recently tried mussels and now I can’t believe I’ve missed out for so long. I love the flavor combination you used (as always!). I can’t wait to try this.ReplyCancel

  • kickpleat - I always think of of making mussels as an occasion, but I shouldn’t! It’s easy and delicious and should be something that is appreciated often. I’ve recently started to really love fennel so I’m bookmarking this for a future dinner. With lots of bread :)ReplyCancel

  • Kasey - We make mussels at home all the time – the main things that change are the sauce and the veggies/herbs. I’m a big fan of using beer and nothing’s better than some warm bread dipped in a steaming bowl of brothy mussels.ReplyCancel

  • Caitlin - Another bonus on mussels – they are great for entertaining, as they are surprisingly inexpensive. Yet your friends will still feel spoiled!!ReplyCancel

  • Nicole - Aren’t mussels the best meal? I love them with a glass of white wine, and crusty bread is a must. I’ve never tried them with beer — fun idea!ReplyCancel

  • BiancaSasha - Ah be still my heart! Mussels are hands down one of my favorite food- in beer, wine or whatever- I love ’em!

    Lovely photograph, you have my mouth watering.


  • kimberley - @Joanne: I am a big fan of contrasting flavors, and this one’s a winner.
    @Tine: I used to be such a picky eater as a kid. Didn’t like watermelon for most of my childhood. It’s fun to rediscover foods years later.
    @NicoleD: But that just makes it all the more fun and novel now! :)
    @kickpleat: I totally agree, I often think of any kind of shellfish as fancy occasion food but mussels are too easy (and less expensive.)
    @Kasey: I’m so curious to know how else you prepare them!
    @Caitlin: You bring up a great point that I forgot to mention above! Thanks.
    @Nicole: Yes, and perfect with a glass of white wine.
    @BiancaSasha: Thanks! They are so delish.ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie - I am soooooooooooo making this dish this weekend!ReplyCancel

  • Lynda - I love mussels. Mustard? Ale? I have been in such a wine rut. This sounds amazing. I can’t wait to try this!ReplyCancel

  • Nicole Franzen ` - LOVE mussels and beer. When I come to San Francisco we are going out to eat. hahaReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth - Swoon–these look fantastic. I want it all–the mussels, the fennel, and the wine.ReplyCancel

  • elizabeth / sophisticated pie - this looks amazing! I love mussels and fennel and ale, so this cannot be bad!ReplyCancel

  • kimberley - @Stephanie: You’re the best!
    @Lynda: Hope you enjoy, and feel free to report back!
    @Nicole F: Yes, we are defs going out to eat when you visit. Can’t wait.
    @Elizabeth: Swoon indeed. So good!
    @elizabeth: It’s a winning combo!ReplyCancel

  • Kankana - such a simple and classy appetizer :)ReplyCancel

  • Brian @ A Thought For Food - We get mussels every year on the Cape and do a big stew. As you said, it’s simple… and perfect. Served with a heaping pile of crusty bread and I’m good to go.ReplyCancel

  • TaraDC - Terrific recipe – even my two year old couldn’t get enough. I used Hoegarden beer and had no issues with the cream. I also substituted tarragon for the parsley and it echoed the anise flavor of the fennel. Delicious!ReplyCancel

  • Mussels with Fennel and Ale | lacomidabonita - […] this very beautiful blog with an emphasis on seasonal food, I obviously was immediately drawn to mussels and fennel in ale. A bit more complex than garlic and white wine, the ale and fennel combined to make a flavorful- if […]ReplyCancel


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