Steamed Penn Cove Mussels with Fennel and Saffron

JBF Award winner Thierry Rautureau entertained guests during his Taste America Seattle demo at Sur La Table with a high-energy demonstration of this recipe for Penn Cove mussels with leeks and saffron. Although Rautureau assured guests mussels are easy to handle, he cautioned a delicate touch with the seasonings: “You don’t need a lot of saffron to get a lot of flavor. And don’t overcook it, just add it at the end. It’s kind of like tea—it has to be infused.”


  • 4 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, halved, plus a pinch of minced garlic
  • 3 sprigs thyme 
  • 2 sprigs curly parsley 
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh, partly torn
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 cups dry vermouth
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons Pastis or other anisette liqueur
  • 1 plum tomato, halved
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 1/2 pounds live Penn Cove mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 3 tablespoons crème fraîche
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons sliced chives for garnish


Make the broth: combine shallots, halved garlic cloves, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and peppercorns in a sauce pan. Add the vermouth and wine. Bring just to a boil over high heat and then decrease the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes.

Prepare the fennel: trim and discard the stalks from the fennel bulb reserving some of the tender fennel fronds for garnish. Halve the fennel bulb lengthwise and cut out the tough core. Separate the layers of the fennel, trimming away any tough or browned portions, and cut the fennel lengthwise in 1/8-inch thick slices. 

Cook the fennel: heat a large skillet to medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the fennel and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the minced garlic, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Cook until the fennel is barely tender, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Add the Pastis and very carefully ignite the alcohol with a long match. Flambé until the flames subside. Set aside until ready to serve.

When the broth has reduced, strain through sieve into a large saucepan, pressing well on the solids with the back of a spoon to remove as much liquid as possible. Add the tomato and saffron to the broth and return to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mussels, cover the pan, and cook, shaking the pan gently once or twice until the mussels have opened, 3 to 5 minutes total. Begin checking for opened mussels after 1 minute, scooping the opened ones out with a slotted spoon into a bowl. Continue to check and discard the mussels that haven’t opened after 5 to 6 minutes of cooking.

Return the saffron broth to a boil, adding any accumulated mussel juices from the bowl to the pan. Cover the mussel bowl with aluminum foil to keep warm. Boil the broth until reduced by one-third, 5 to 7 minutes. Slip off tomato skins and discard.

Whisk the crème fraîche into the saffron broth and set aside to cool slightly. Purée the broth in a blender until smooth, working in batches if necessary. Add the butter to the blender with the final batch. Strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve into the same large saucepan and keep warm over medium heat. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if necessary. Reheat the fennel over medium heat and remove the mussels from their shells.

To serve: spoon the sautéed fennel into the center of 4 shallow soup bowls. Take all but 4 of the mussels from their shells and arrange the shelled mussels around the fennel. Discard half of the shells from the remaining mussels and set the mussels on top of the fennel. Ladle the hot broth around the fennel, scatter the chives over the mussels, and finish with a frond of fennel.


4 servings