Steamed Mussels with Star Anise and Fennel

by Gavan on July 29, 2009

Steamed Mussels with Star Anise and Fennel

Aw man, if you’re a regular follower you know that I steamed mussels is one of my favorite dishes. In fact, I’m becoming quite the worldly connoisseur of mussels. Most recently moules frittes in Paris, mussels in Ireland, and both the east & west coasts of the U.S. and it has all been heavenly. Come to think of it, I love any and all fresh seafood, probably due to my upbringing on Ireland’s west coast where everything was fresh off the boat.


Depending on where you live, fennel season runs from Summer to Autumn, or from Fall to Spring. I see fennel sporadically all year round at our farmers’ markets and I think it’s because I live in a coastal climate. I love fennel because the entire plant is edible and nutritionally it’s high in vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants. It tastes like licorice and anise yet it’s a tad sweeter and it’s crunchy like celery. You’ve probably seen fennel most notably in  Mediterranean & Italian cuisines. I happen to love fennel with seafood and did I mention it’s a renowned as a digestive herb?

Star Anise

Star Anise

We go from the Med to China and Vietnam, where star anise is a regular staple. It’s one of the spices in Chinese five-spice powder and like fennel, it has a distinctive licorice taste. In China, star anise is prescribed as a digestive aid. Not to be confused with plain anise, though since they’re pretty similar, they can be substituted for one another.

This is a great example of taking two regional staples and creating one harmonious dish. So without further ado, I give you sweet licorice mussels that are good for the tum:

Serves 2

2 lbs mussels (25-30 approx) – washed and cleaned
1/2 fennel bulb – core cut out, very thinly sliced
2 star anise – whole
1 cup white wine (whatever you’re drinking will work)
1 Roma tomato  – small dice
2 black peppercorns
1 tbsp olive oil

Begin by rinsing the mussels and clams in cold water. Search through them to make sure the shells are all closed. Discard all opened or cracked shells.

TIP: For slightly opened shells, tap lightly on your work surface and if your shells close, they’re good to use.  My motto here: When in doubt, throw it out.

Preheat deep sauté pan on medium heat for 2 minutes.
 Add olive oil and sauté fennel and star anise for 1 minute.  Add shellfish, wine and tomatoes.
Cover with lid and steam for 4-5 minutes or until all the shells have opened.

NOTE: Discard any unopened shells after cooking as well as the star anise.

Using a slotted spoon, divide the shellfish between 2 dishes.
Ladle the tomato broth over the mussels.
Finish dish with some freshly chopped parsley and crusty bread. Oh yeah!

All recipes are made with the finest quality farmers market whole foods, natural and non-processed ingredients as much as possible.

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