A short while ago I wrote about having lunch at one of Toronto’s great new places to eat seafood – Diana’s in Scarborough. As sexy as it was having a Lobster Club House sandwich, the real star of that lunch were the steamed mussels in a white wine and fennel sauce. Tremendous. I asked our waiter for more bread for dunking into the sauce with mild wine undertones balanced with the aroma and flavour of fennel and paired with a delicate sweetness of the mussels themselves and the touch of cream that made the sauce into something of a thinned out mussel chowder.
When I first tried to pay homage to this dish I used your usual mussels but the flavour wasn’t the same as at Diana’s: that sweetness was missing and the usual mussels were small in comparison with the mussels used at Diana’s Gallo Mussels. These mussels are cultivated in the West Coast and to look at the shells, they look like any other mussel to the naked one. Once they are steamed and open-up, you see the Gallo mussels are unique, they are huge, succulent, sweet and frankly the most delicious mussels I’ve ever eaten.
Gallo Mussels are the same genus as Galician Mussels but the European ones are a protected name and hence the name difference. I’m sure you could pull-off this dish with the usual live mussels but I urge you to try Gallo mussels just once. You may not want to eat any other type of mussel (I don’t). This is one of the easiest dishes to prepare, half the work being done preparing the mussels and the other half cooking them up.
The ingredients list is short but all of high quality: Gallo mussels, sweet red onions and in-season fennel, Riesling wine from the Reif Winery from nearby Niagara wine country and a splash of Reif’s First Growth Riesling, a sweet wine that’s not as sweet as an ice wine with a lemony, tart finish. The finishing touches to the dish are some cream and fresh herbs, some fennel fronds to accent the anise flavours and chopped fresh parsley to balance the the flavours.
Mussels With Fennel & White Wine Sauce
( for two)
1 1/2 lbs. of Gallo mussels
1/2 stick of unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced red onions
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup sliced fennel
1/4 cup Riesling white wine
1 Tbsp. First Growth TBA Reif Estate Riesling (or other white sweet wine)
2-3 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. fennel fronds or fresh tarragon
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
- Choose mussels that are closed, feel heavy and if slightly opened, tap them to see if they are alive and close shut. Get your mussels home as soon as you can, pull the beards off them and scrub the shells. Rinse well and place in a bowl and place in your fridge for up to one day. Thirty minutes before you are about to cook your mussels, place them in a bowl with water and sprinkle with some flour or cornmeal. Allow the mussels about 20 minutes to spit any sand that may remain in the mussels (the sand clings to the flour) then rinse once more.
- Place a medium-sized pot on your stovetop over medium heat and once the butter has melted add the onions, fennel and garlic and simmer for about 5 minutes or until vegetables have softened and translucent. Turn the heat up to high, add the mussels, wine and cover. Allow the mussels to steam for 6-7 minutes or until they have opened (discard any that haven’t opened).
- Add the cream, a splash of the ice wine, the chopped fennel fronds and parsley and shake the pot back & forth for a minute to warm through and amalgamate into the sauce. Transfer to a serving bowl with lots of crusty bread to mop-up the sauce and enjoy with a chilled Riesling.
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