Mussels with fennel, saffron and spinach

Mussels with fennel, saffron and spinach

A Year In My Kitchen

Mussels are at their best during the autumn. I miss them during the summer months when they are not available and begin to pester my fishmonger, Colin, for them early in September. Being a perfectionist, Colin will not sell me anything that is less than perfect…last year he kept me waiting until almost the end of September, but that first batch of mussels was well worth the wait. Plump and deep coral in colour, they are beautiful in this timeless combination.


Quantity Ingredient
1kg live mussels
1 glass dry white wine
2 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped
4 bay leaves
few thyme sprigs
10 black peppercorns
1 medium fennel bulb
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons saffron threads
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
250ml water
250ml creme fraiche
150g young leaf spinach, well washed


  1. First clean the mussels thoroughly. Remove the tenacious beards, then pull away any seaweed attached to the shell and wash the shells well under cold running water.
  2. Pour the wine into a large heavy-based saucepan, add the shallots, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns and bring to a simmer. Tip the mussels into the pan, increase the heat slightly and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook for 4–5 minutes, shaking the pan now and then to give the mussels room to open.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the fennel. Trim off the base and discard the fibrous outer layer, then slice finely.
  4. Remove the lid from the pan and tip the mussels into a colander set over a bowl to catch the liquid. Wipe out the saucepan and return to a low heat. Add the butter and once it has melted, put in the fennel slices, saffron and a little salt and pepper (remembering that the mussels may be quite salty). Sweat gently for about 10 minutes until the fennel is soft.
  5. Meanwhile, discard any unopened mussels. Strain the mussel cooking liquor and add it to the fennel with the water and crème fraîche. Stir well and bring to the boil. Simmer for 1–2 minutes, then add the spinach and mussels. Cook for a further minute to wilt the spinach and warm the mussels through. Check the seasoning.
  6. Ladle into warm bowls and serve with crusty open-textured white bread and beautiful unsalted butter.
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