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Mussels with fennel and star anise

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I assumed my search for “mussels star anise” would yield Asian or Asian-influenced dishes. Instead, numerous recipes took advantage of its distinctive licorice taste to enhance that same flavor in fennel. This appealed to me for a couple of reasons. First, we’ve been enjoying cooking with – and eating – fennel bulbs lately. Ziti with Sausage and Fennel has become an instant favorite at our house. And second, this unexpected mash-up of ingredients from different corners of the globe is at the heart of much of Blue Kitchen’s approach to cooking.

There are any number of reasons to love mussels. They’re delicious and insanely versatile, playing nicely with all kinds of cuisines and flavors. Mussels are fast and easy to cook – in fact, about the only way to screw them up is to overcook them. They’re cheap too, especially for seafood. The most I’ve ever paid for them is $5 a pound – usually, they’re less.

One of the coolest things about mussels, though, is that they’re sustainable. Even – or perhaps especially – the farmed variety. They’re filter feeders, so farming mussels doesn’t require feeding them wild fish and doesn’t deplete the wild fish stock, as does farming of many other species. And they actually clean the water, instead of polluting it as some farmed seafood does. In fact, David W. Dunlap reported in the New York Times last summer that New York City was installing an artificial mussel bed in the East River. No, the city isn’t looking to get into aquaculture; their goal is to have the them help clean up the river.

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