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Mussels, like crème brûlée and mole sauce, are one of those dishes we're always glad to see in restaurants but don't often have into our own kitchens for dinner. Mole gets it -- mole, at least, needs you to have the spice rack of Oaxacan royalty. Crème brûlée rolls its eyes at insistence that it's finicky, but concedes that not everyone can budget the kitchen space to a blowtorch.
But mussels are at a loss. They open up with nothing more than a little steam, quickly catching onto other flavors and, afterward, lending their shells to scooping up the leftover broth. They're un-fussy, and doubly so with sausage; elegant, and doubly so with fennel fronds and Pernod. Radishes -- the feisty cousin of the root vegetable clan -- join the party in a dressing that's equal parts toasty and tangy.
2 pounds freshest wild mussels
1 link Italian sausage with fennel
2 large bulbs fennel sliced thin, fronds reserved
1 large shallot, sliced thin
1/2 cup Pernod
1 tablespoon fennel pollen, divided
1/2 cup half & half
1 pinch saffron, in 2 tablespoons warm water
1 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
2 cups radishes, washed and roughly chopped
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
We assume you have garlic, red pepper flakes, olive oil, and salt. If not, add those to your grocery list!
1. Rinse and debeard mussels, discarding any that will not close. Refrigerate them in a bowl of ice and/or cold water.
2. Bring the orange juice to a boil in a small saucepan and cook it until it is reduced to about 1/4 cup (about 20 to 25 minutes). Remove from heat. Whisk olive oil and curry powder into the orange juice and add salt to taste. This will be the dressing for the radishes, but set it aside for now.
3. Meanwhile, remove the sausage casing. In a pot big enough to hold the mussels, brown sausage in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Set sausage aside, leaving the fat in the pot.
4. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pot, then add the fennel and shallots and sauté over medium heat until the fennel softens and begins to caramelize. Remove the fennel and shallots and set aside with the sausage.
5. Add one more tablespoon olive oil to the pot, along with the garlic, red pepper flakes, and saffron. Sauté 2 to 3 minues. Add Pernod and bring to a boil. Add rinsed mussels, cover pot, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, shaking occasionally, until the mussels open.
6. Add half & half, sausage, fennel, and half of the fennel pollen. Cook an additional 3 minutes, shaking the pot a few more times.
7. Toss the chopped radishes with the dressing and divide them between 4 plates, topped with feta cheese and chopped mint. Divide the mussels into four bowls and sprinkle with the remaining fennel pollen, a handful of fennel fronds, and crusty bread that's been toasted and rubbed with garlic. Serve immediately.
Photos by James Ransom