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Mussels with fennel and star anise

Mussels steamed in a buttery broth of shallots, garlic, tomatoes, and star anise are an easy, delicious, sustainable dinner. Use this recipe to wow your sweetheart on Valentine's Day with a home cooked meal.

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Mussels with fennel and star anise
Serves 2

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Blue Kitchen

Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.

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A quick note: Prep everything else before you clean the mussels – or even remove them from the fridge. (See Kitchen Notes for more on handling mussels.)

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 whole star anise (available in Asian markets and many supermarkets)

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 cup dry white wine [may substitute cooking wine or vegetable broth]

1 Roma (plum) tomato, diced

freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds mussels

chopped fennel fronds, for garnish

crusty bread or baguette

After you’ve prepped everything else and are set to cook, clean the mussels. Farmed mussels are fairly clean to begin with and require little effort. Scrub them with a stiff brush under cold running water, discarding any mussels with broken or cracked shells, or any opened mussels that don’t close when you tap them lightly on the counter. Remove the beards which may appear along the hinge side of the shell, using a sharp knife or pulling with your fingers. Set aside in a bowl.

Melt the butter in a large, lidded sauté pan over medium heat. Add the fennel, shallot and star anise and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Add wine and tomato and season generously with black pepper. Stir and bring wine to a boil before proceeding.

Quickly add mussels in a single layer and cover pan. Cook, shaking pan occasionally, until mussels open, 4 to 6 minutes (you don’t want to overcook and make them rubbery). Remove from heat. Discard any mussels that don’t open, along with star anise. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mussels to two shallow serving bowls. Spoon broth and vegetables over mussels. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve with crusty bread for sopping up the broth. Serve a simple salad alongside and you’ve got dinner.

Kitchen Notes

Just one note this time, but an important one. Treat the mussels right. When you eat meat or seafood, it means an animal has died for you to do so. Those of us who don’t hunt or fish are usually comfortably removed from that fact. Supermarkets, butcher shops and fishmongers wrap our fillets, steaks, chops and other cuts in plastic or paper for us, ready to be taken home and prepared. Mussels are another story. Like lobsters and a few other seafood choices, they’re live when you buy them. Remember that as you handle them.

Keep them cold. Ask to have them packed with a little ice when you buy them, and make sure the bag is left open, especially if it’s plastic; the mussels need to breathe. Then take them right home. There, store them in the fridge, without the ice. One fishmonger helpfully suggested putting them in a colander over a shallow pan; that way, they won’t end up sitting in any brine they cast off. Don’t put them in water; the fresh water will kill them.

For the same reason, don’t “rinse them in several water baths,” as some recipes suggest. It won’t kill them that quickly, but it will cause unnecessary irritation. And when it’s time to cook them, bring your broth to a full boil before adding them and cover the pan immediately after adding them. That will make the end as swift as possible. I say all this not to put you off eating mussels – or other seafood or meat, for that matter. Just respect the animals that feed us.

Related post on Blue Kitchen: Scallops with Melted Leeks and Egg Noodles

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The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of food bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by The Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own and they are responsible for the content of their blogs and their recipes. All readers are free to make ingredient substitutions to satisfy their dietary preferences, including not using wine (or substituting cooking wine) when a recipe calls for it. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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