Portuguese Mussels With Sausage, Fennel, and Ouzo Cream


4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound Italian sausage (I used sweet, but hot works, too)
1/4 cup ouzo (optional, but* really* nice)
8 ounces heavy cream
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons melted butter


I start by adding a few glugs of olive oil to a large hot pan (large enough to fit all my ingredients, including my mussels, later on — a wok would have worked, too, if I’d another one to use), and then lightly sauté my minced garlic before adding my sausages, from which I’ve removed the casings. Using a wooden spoon, I break these meatwads up into smaller pieces.
Meanwhile, I separate my fennel from its fronds, which I set aside to add later, then chop the bulb into nice-sized pieces.
I also wash my mussels, scrub ‘em, rap any open ones sharply to see if they close (if they don’t, they’re dead, and I chuck ‘em), use a paring knife to cut off any beards, all to prepare them for steaming. It will only take about 8 minutes to do so, and I want them to be ready when I need them. I set enough water into the one wok I have to come to just under my bamboo steamer baskets, and bring it to a boil…
Before setting the basket over the bath and covering to start the steaming process.
I now add my chopped fennel bulb to the pan and toss everything well. I want my fennel to still be toothsome when it comes to table, so I saute it first with the sausage for about 5 minutes…
Before adding my ouzo for the last 3-5 minutes, which will sweeten the meat and soften the fennel.
The fun thing about steaming mussels in bamboo is that when they start to yawn, to push the top off the steamer — sort of like a pop-up button in the breast of a roastig turkey. See how eager they are to be eaten? I remove the steamer from the bath, trying not to drain all the milky broth inside the mussel shells; it’s not just condensation, that’s yummy, flavorful mussel juice, baby! I dump all them gaping maws, their tender little tongues, and their sweet, salty sweat over my fennel and sausage, and toss it all very well, introducing all the ingredients to each other until they’re ready to get even more intimate.
And what’s more intimate than swimming in heavy cream? Luscious, silky, rich and thick, I generously drown the inhabitants of this hot tub with their ultimate sauce, then stir the pot to get the co-mingling going. I bring up the heat to high, and let the cream, sausage, and fennel come to a boil briefly to thicken.
At the last moment, right before plating, I add the chopped fennel fronds, some sea salt and a heavy serving of cracked black pepper, until the slick on my spoon tastes perfect to the lick.
Not to be all First Lady of New York or anything, but I do admit to keeping a can or two of easily adulterated quick biscuits in my fridge these days to make sure I always have something to satisfy Clayton’s constant bread craving. But I really don’t like the uneven way they cook; my crappy oven always yields biscuits that are overcooked on top, undercooked inside, and burned on the bottom. I’ve learned that cutting them up, drenching them in spiced butter (garlic, pepper, parmesan, etc. for savory; cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg, lemon zest, etc. for sweet), and stuffing them in muffin tins makes really nice puffy, perfectly cooked bread nuggets which compliment many a quick meal.
Since sopping was in order for the night’s meal, these were just the ticket.
Sweet Italian sausage, tender mussels and barely crisp slices of fennel all swimming in a delicately scented milk, a satisfying supper that warms the tummy. I forgo the use of the tablespoon next to my plate, and find myself using a mussel shell as a slurping and scooping aid, catching the cream dribbling down my chin with the soft pillow of my buttery biscuit puffs. This is a hands-on meal; you have to tease each morsel of mussel out of its ebony cage, you have to dig for sausage and stab bits of fennel with your fork, but if it didn’t take the effort to eat, I think it would be inhaled as if caught in the whirlwind of a black hole. Clayton and I sure dug in with abandon. And to think — this is essentially fair food, first enjoyed out of styrofoam with paper napkins at a belly-up high-top on an autumn afternoon. Th


8.0 servings


Wednesday, February 9, 2011 - 4:09pm


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