In fact, I had no moules of any kind in Paris, though we did have some fantastic oysters. I guess the rule is that you should never eat mussels in months that do not have an "R" (May, June, July, August), although I suppose that rule would also apply to oysters and we had no issue with ignoring it for oysters. I don't know, I just know that we didn't really see many places serving mussels, except some really suspect bistros right near Gare du Nord. Not exactly the part of town you go to seek out food.
Though I usually opt for Moules Mariniere, with some lovely herbs and white wine, Moules Provencale is a good choice if you're not into the wineyness of mariniere, or if you love the tomato action. I found this recipe for Fennel-Steamed Mussels Provencal on Mark Bittman's Bitten blog and was immediately intrigued by the focus on fennel. I could just imagine that the sweetness of the mussels would be so well complemented by the subtle anise-flavor of the fennel.
He really kicks ups that fennel flavor by also calling for fennel seeds, and tarragon, and either anise-flavored liqueur or whole star anise. I used the star anise because it was what I had in the house, and it's just so pretty. Despite my great love of anise flavors in cooking, I'm actually not a fan of anise liqueur so it's not something I would generally have around the house. This recipe did prove a wonderful combination, and the liquid left behind was best soaked up with some good rustic baguette. Bringing a little bit of France back home. Recipe after the jump:
FENNEL-STEAMED MUSSELS PROVENCAL
From The New York Times Bitten Blog by Mark Bittman
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 fennel bulb (about 1 pound), trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1/2 cup Pernod or Ricard (or 4 whole star anise)
1 cup chopped tomatoes, if desired (canned are fine, drained first)
1 sprig fresh tarragon, if desired
At least 4 pounds large mussels, well washed
1. Place the oil in a large pot and turn the heat to medium; 1 minute later, add the garlic, fennel, fennel seeds, liqueur, and tomatoes and tarragon if you're using them. Bring to a boil, cook for about 1 minute. Add the mussels, cover the pot, and turn the heat to high.
2. Cook, shaking the pot occasionally, until the mussels open, 5 to 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the mussels and fennel to a serving bowl, then strain any liquid over them and serve.