Mussels with Wine, Bacon & Fennel

by Megg

I’ve only made mussels a couple of times now, but I need to start making them all the time.  They are ridiculously easy to cook, very inexpensive, and so tasty!  Funny thing is, mussels weren’t even the inspiration for this meal… in fact, it was the bacon!

This may come as a shock to the hoards of bacon-fanatics out there, but I’m not a huge fan of bacon.  It always seems so fatty and greasy to me.  This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy it from time to time.  I just happen to know a LOT of people who are just crazy about bacon (I even have a friend who’s otherwise a vegetarian… except for bacon).  I am just not one of these people.  But then I tried Spencer’s back bacon, and now I think I might know what it feels like to get so excited over the stuff.

Our farmers market goes indoors for the winter, and this is where we discovered Spencer’s.  They offer delicious British and Irish food like bangers and bacon.  I tried a sample of their back bacon, and I loved it.  As I explained, this is a weird reaction for me!  So of course we bought the stuff, and then picked up some fennel from another vendor, thinking fennel and bacon would go well together.  We didn’t have anything specific in mind, but when we got home I started searching for recipes.  I came across one for mussels with wine, fennel, and bacon.  Perfect!
Before I get to the recipe, I’d like to point out a few things about fresh mussels.  When you buy them, make sure that they are still alive.  If you give ‘em a good tap on the shell, they should close up tightly; if not, then you’ve got a dead mussel on your hands.  Toss those out.  Also dispose of mussels with cracked shells.  If not using the mussels right away when you get home, put them in a bowl or dish (large enough to hold all of the mussels without them piling up over the rim) and cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel.  They’ll likely come wrapped in paper, and you don’t want to leave them like this or they’ll die.  They don’t need to be in water since in they can live out of water too.  Just keep them damp with the towel and place in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them.  If you’re saving them over night, make sure you dispose of any liquid that drains to the bottom of the bowl/pan in the morning.  Also check to make sure the towel remains damp.
Showin’ off my mussels.
To prepare the mussels for cooking, scrub them clean with cold water and remove any sand or dirt from the shells.  Check once again that all of your mussels are alive.  Check each mussel for a beard (a little stringy bit hanging out the side of the shell) and pull this off.  It will likely be a bit of a struggle, but a little muscle goes a long way with mussels.. (sorry, I couldn’t help myself! ^_^).  Once your mussels are cleaned and de-bearded, you’re ready to start cooking!
Mussels with Wine, Bacon & Fennel
—-adapted from Examiner—-
Makes 2 servings
  • 2 lbs of fresh mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
  • 3 slices of bacon, diced
  • 1/2 head of fennel, diced (save the sprigs for a gorgeous garnish!)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, whole, peeled
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Trader Joe’s Coastal Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 a stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • Juice of one small lemon
  • Salt & pepper to taste
1. In a large pot, fry the diced bacon over medium-high heat until crispy.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the fennel.  Sauté until fennel is softened.
2. Add the thyme sprigs, garlic cloves, and mussels.  Add the wine, cover, and cook until the mussels open up.  This should only take a couple of minutes so watch them closely.  Finish by adding the butter, parsley and lemon juice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and garnish with fennel sprig.
See?  I told you this was easy!  Serve the mussels with a crusty baguette and you’ve got yourself a warming, delectable and beautiful dish.  It’s just perfect for the chilly weather, and very economical, so you can save your cash for holiday gifts instead!  Enjoy!
  • Bentobird

    Delectable and beautiful indeed! A gutsy and gourmet meal, so nice for late fall…your detailed narrative makes it look easy and so enticing :)

  • Megg

    Oh Jenn, it really is so simple! I used to think of mussels as an intimidating dish to make but once I tried it.. like I said, I wonder why I don't make mussels more often!

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