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Fresh Choices, by Rochelle Davis, David Joachim

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Mussels don't need much flavoring, but why not indulge now and then? This light cream sauce takes them over the top. Pernod, a licorice-flavored liqueur available in most wine and spirits shops, perfectly complements the fresh tarragon.

• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 small onion, chopped
• 4 medium shallots, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
• 1/3 cup Pernod
• 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
• 4 dozen farm-raised blue mussels or Mediterranean mussels, scrubbed and debearded
• 3/4 cup organic light cream or half-and-half
• 1 tablespoon organic butter
• 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large, deep saute pan over medium heat.

When hot, add the onion and shallots and cook until just beginning to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.

Offheat (to avoid a flare-up), pour in the Pernod and wine.

Simmer over medium heat for 1 minute.

Add the mussels and cover. Increase the heat to high and steam, shaking the pan once or twice, until the mussels open, 5 to 7 minutes.

Discard any unopened mussels.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the mussels to a serving bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.

Using a fine-mesh strainer (or a colander lined with a large coffee filter), strain the cooking liquid into a medium bowl.

Rinse out the saute pan and pour the strained liquid back into the pan.

Boil over high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1 cup, 5 to 7 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the cream or half-and-half, butter, tarragon, salt, and pepper.

Drizzle the sauce over the mussels and serve.

Helping Hand: To remove grit or sand that may be under the shells, you'll need a pot big enough to hold the mussels.

Dissolve about 1/4 cup salt in 2 cups warm water and then add 2 tablespoons cornmeal or flour. Add the mussels and enough cold water to cover them.

Soak for 2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. The mussels will actually take in the grain and expel the grit or sand.

Before using, rinse the mussels and scrub if scruffy-looking and snip off the "beards" (dark threads) with scissors.

If mussels have opened slightly before cooking, tap the shell. They should snap shut.

Discard any mussels that don't pass the tap test, as well as any that fail to open during cooking.

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