The slightly bitter Belgian ale combines nicely with the brininess of the mussels, and the light cream sauce is accented by lemon and fennel. Keep a hunk of crusty bread nearby so that you can soak up the leftover sauce.
What to buy:
Look for fresh mussels that do not smell fishy and have tightly closed shells.
You can use a 12-inch cast iron skillet for this recipe, but any heavy-bottomed pot with a lid will work.
If you are not cooking the live mussels immediately, remove them from their plastic bag (if they’re in one), place in an ice-filled bowl, cover with a damp towel, and keep refrigerated. But be sure to use them within one or two days of purchase.
Just prior to cooking the mussels, clean them by scrubbing the shells and debearding them. Debeard each mussel by grabbing the thread, or beard, that runs along the side of the shell and pulling it toward the hinge of the shell until it is removed.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/2 medium fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups light Belgian-style ale (such as Duvel)
2 pounds live mussels, scrubbed and debearded
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup heavy cream
Melt butter in a large cast iron skillet or large frying pan over medium heat. When it foams, add onion and fennel, and sweat until vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper and cook another 2 minutes.
Add ale and bring mixture to a boil over high heat. Add mussels and reduce heat to medium. Cover the pan with a large lid and let simmer, shaking the pan occasionally, until mussels begin to open, about 5 minutes.
As mussels open, remove them to a serving platter with a slotted spoon. Discard any mussels that do not open after 10 minutes. Stir lemon zest and cream into the mussels’ cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Cook until broth is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
Pour creamy broth and vegetables over mussels, and serve with crusty bread.