"Mussels are one of those foods," says Kinch, "where you don't eat just five. You eat five dozen." From Paris bistros to Marseille brasseries, a big bowl of mussels is all about conviviality. And though many of us eat them only in restaurants, mussels are available fresh and cheap in markets all over. Even better, all classic mussel dishes operate on the same principle: Prepare a flavorful liquid in a pot, dump the mussels in, and cover. "You're just steaming them open and taking advantage of their own juices," Kinch says. "They're incredibly flavorful — briny and sweet."
4 lbs P.E.I. mussels
2 baguettes, sliced
extra-virgin olive oil For the bouquet garni: 12 parsley stems
2 sprigs fresh thyme
6 celery tops (the small leaves at the top of a celery stalk; 2 pieces of celery make a fine substitute)
2 dark green leek tops For the broth: 2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
2 large fennel bulbs, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups Pernod
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup cream
1. Prep the mussels Hold any open mussels closed for a few seconds. If they spring open again, they're dead and must be discarded. Pluck beards off the remaining mussels.
2. Make the croutons Set baguette slices on baking sheet, brush them with olive oil, and bake at 400 F until golden-brown, about 10 minutes.
3. Prepare the bouquet garni Tie parsley stems, thyme sprigs, and celery and leek tops together with a piece of string (unwaxed, flavorless dental floss works in a pinch).
4. Prep the vegetables Warm a large pot over medium heat, and then add 1 tbsp olive oil. Add onion, fennel, bouquet garni, and a pinch of salt, and stir. Cover until vegetables are tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute more.
5. Add mussels. Turn heat to high, dump mussels in, add Pernod and wine, and cover. "Shake the pan to get all the mussels to open," Kinch says. Check after 3 or 4 minutes — when mussels are open, they're done. With slotted spoon, remove mussels to a strainer.
6. Finish the broth Add cream to liquid in pot and bring to a simmer. Lower heat and maintain simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, cooking off some of the water. Dump mussels back in, bring to a simmer again, cover, and shake once more. Spoon mussels into bowls, distribute broth evenly, and serve with the croutons for dipping.