I don’t give in to pasta or bread very often, so if I do, it has to be good. The broth in mussel dishes is too good to leave in the bowl, so pasta and some bread can really make the meal.
I can usually find mussels at Whole Foods or Wegman’s. These, from Wegman’s, were from Canada and were super delicate and sweet.
Allegedly, the correct way to eat mussels is to use both hands, pry the two sides of the shell apart, and suck out the flesh. I’m no prude, but that’s not pretty. I served this with a spoon and a seafood fork.
1 cup fregola or Israeli couscous
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 lb. fennel (about 1 medium bulb), trimmed, cored, and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
1 small to medium onion, cut just like the fennel
1 lb. mussels
1/4 lb. cured chorizo or soppressata, cut into small dice
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chopped fresh fennel fronds
1 tsp. finely grated orange zest 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
First, clean and debeard your mussels:
Place the mussels in a colander in the sink and run water over them, using your hands or a clean scrubbing brush to rub off any debris like seaweed, sand, barnacles, or mud spots that could be on the shell. If you find any mussels with open shells, lightly tap that mussel against the side of the sink. If the mussel closes up again in response to this turmoil, it’s alive. If it doesn’t move, discard it.
The “beard” of a mussel is the clump of hair-like fibers that sprouts from the shell. Often farm-raised mussels will come debearded, but even so you’ll want to check that there aren’t some pesky ones hanging on. To remove the beard from the mussels, grab it with your thumb and forefinger and tug it toward the hinge of the mussel shell. You can also use a knife to gently scrape away the beard.
Cook the fregola or couscous in well-salted water according to package directions until barely al dente. Drain well, toss with a drizzle of oil, and set aside.
Heat the oil in a 7-quart Dutch oven or similar pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the garlic and set it aside. Add the onion and fennel, season with 1/2 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 12 to 15 minutes.
Increase the heat to medium high. Add the mussels, chorizo, and pepper flakes. Return the garlic to the pan and toss. Add the wine, cover, and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mussels open, about 5 minutes. If some are not open, give them another 1 to 2 minutes. Discard any unopened mussels.
Add the zest, juice, and butter, and shake the pan to incorporate. Add the fregola, cover, and remove from the heat for 1 to 2 minutes to warm the fregola. Uncover, toss, and serve drizzled with olive oil and topped with additional fennel fronds, if you like. A toasted baguette or garlic bread on the side isn’t a bad idea either.
Of course, neither is a nice bottle of Lloyd Chardonnay, one of my favorites.