Mussels with Cream and Pernod


Growing up, the only mussels I ate were served southern-Italian style, sauced with a hot marinara and accompanied by a thick bread biscotto to sop up the condiment. Today, it’s a dish I make quite often at home.

In the summer of my junior year in high school, however, I spent 14 weeks in France with a group of classmates, studying the language and serendipitously broadening my culinary horizons.

During that time, we were forbidden to speak English or to consume anything that wasn’t French. In fact, near the beginning of our stay, on a day trip through the Loire valley, our teacher and guide, a true Francophile Jesuit, went apoplectic at lunch when the restaurant, seeing us as tourists, brought out bottles of ketchup with our steak frites. “Enlever le ketchup!” (Remove the ketchup!) he demanded. The ketchup disappeared—alas.

We were studying at the University of Grenoble and took most of our meals in the school’s cafeteria. But when we were on our own, a few friends and I would venture into local bistros. It was on one of these days that I discovered a dish that would become one of my French favorites: moules au Pernod, mussels napped in a light sauce of cream, onions, and Pernod. The smooth anise-scented sauce provided the perfect counterpart to briny mussels.

It’s the perfect summer’s night entree, especially paired with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, preferably a Sancerre, and a crusty baguette to get the last bit of sauce.



1 1/4 cups leeks sliced 1/4-inch thick using only the white and pale green portion
1 1/2 cups Sauvignon Blanc or other dry white wine
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed, debearded
1/2 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
4 tablespoons Pernod or other anise liqueur
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

Combine the sliced leeks, wine, and bell pepper in large heavy-bottomed non-reactive pot. Bring to boil over high heat.

Leeks, peppers, wine
Leeks, peppers, wine

Add the mussels. Cover the pot and cook until mussels open, about 5 minutes, shaking the past once or twice.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a bowl (discard any mussels that do not open).

The opened mussels
The opened mussels

To the pot, add the cream, salt and pepper to taste, and Pernod. Boil until liquid is slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. Mix in chopped parsley.

Making the sauce
Making the sauce

Return the mussels and any accumulated juices to pot. Simmer until mussels are warmed through, about 1 minute; adjust the seasoning. Serve mussels with the sauce.

The finished dish
The finished dish

Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre

Mussels Marinara


Tuesday is usually a fish day for us. So last night, I prepared Mussels Marinara. I’m not sure how I came up with this recipe, but over the years I’ve been tweaking it. The marinara sauce is based on that of my Neapolitan aunt, who would often prepare it for a weekday dinner’s first-course pasta. The process of steaming the mussels open in the sauce comes from many recipes I’ve used for preparing clams for pasta with olive oil, garlic, and parsley.

This is a relatively easy and quick dish to prepare; perfect for a weekday night.


2 pounds mussels, rinsed and debearded. (I use farmed mussels, which are easier to clean and require a minimum of debearding.)
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
3 Tbs chopped parsley (1 for the sauce; 2 for finishing)
28 oz can of crushed Italian tomatoes
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tsp crushed red-pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1 tsp dried oregano (If you opt for more oregano, be careful not to overdo it, as too much oregano can overwhelm the taste of the mussels.)

1. Clean and debeard mussels, discarding any cracked or opened ones. I keep them in a bowl with cold water slowly running over them and then lift them up out of the water with a spider or small sieve.

2. In a large deep, 3 quart, sauté pan, over low heat add oil and garlic. Poach the garlic slowly for about 5 minutes until they become aromatic and before they take on any color.|

3. Add 1 Tbs of the parsley and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes more.

4. Add tomatoes and bring to simmer.

5. Add red-pepper flakes and oregano. Rub the oregano in your palms to release maximum flavor.

6. Add wine and simmer uncovered over medium low heat for 15 minutes.musstep2small

7. Add mussels to to the pan and stir coating them with the sauce.


8. Cover the pan tightly. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan, until the mussels have opened.

9. Transfer to a large bowl with the sauce, discarding any mussels that have not opened. Finish with the remaining parsley and, if desired, a drizzle of olive oil.

Serve, in warmed bowls, with thick slices of grilled or toasted Italian bread to sop up the sauce.

Wine Pairing:  A young Salento Rosso for a red; a Fiano di Avellino for a white.