Steamed Mussels With Fennel-Saffron Broth: The Flavors of Bouillabaisse in 15 Minutes

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Mussels with classic bouillabaisse flavors: saffron, fennel, and tomatoes. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

I've gone on record as saying that mussels are the easiest choose-your-own-adventure one-pot meal around, and I intend to prove it to you.

Classic moules marinières are all well and good, but what if we want something oh, a little more interesting? Depending on the ingredients you add—the base aromatics, the cooking liquid, the enriching agents, and the finishing aromatics—you can transport yourself to far-flung corners of the globe in record time.

This variation on steamed mussels draws inspiration from a classic French bouillabaisse flavored with fennel, saffron, and tomatoes. I drew the inspiration from this chicken bouillabaisse recipe by Eric Ripert, one of my favorite one pot meals around.

The fennel, onion, and garlic that start the aromatic base are all well and good, but the real keys to the flavor in this dish are the fennel-flavored dry salami added at the beginning, and the shot of Pernod and pinch of saffron you add just before dumping in the mussels. The Pernod is mild enough that you don't get a super heavy anise-flavored broth at the end, but it adds a bit of subtle aroma to the background. This is a French seafood dish, after all. Subtle complexity is where it's at.

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For true bouillabaisse spirit, you might consider making a quick rouille-style sauce by adding a pinch of cayenne pepper and saffron to our basic aioli recipe, but seriously, the broth is so packed with flavor that you don't really need it.