Billi Bi (Cream of Mussel Soup)
There are several stories surrounding the origin of this suave French soup, the most popular being that a chef at the famed Maximâ€™s of Paris named it after American tin tycoon William B. (Billy B.) Leeds, a regular customer and huge fan of the soup. Donâ€™t pull the beards from the mussels until you are ready to cook them, as this kills the mussels. A musselâ€™s shell should close if it is tapped on a counter. Any mussels that do not close, or that are filled with mud (they will make a dull sound when tapped), should be discarded.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 pounds mussels
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 cup white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, minced
5 tablespoons flour
5 cups Fish Broth (page 19)
Sachet: 5-6 parsley stems, 6-8 black peppercorns, 1 sprig fresh or 1/2
teaspoon dried thyme, and 1 bay leaf enclosed in a large teaball or
tied in a cheesecloth pouch
1 egg yolk
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
Pull the beards from the mussels. Scrub the mussels well under cold running water. Set aside.
Combine the shallots, wine, and saffron threads in a pot large enough to hold the mussels. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add the mussels, cover the pot tightly, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the mussels for 5-6 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally. Remove the mussels from the pot as their shells open. Remove the meat from the shells; refrigerate. Strain the cooking liquid and reserve.
Heat the butter in a 3-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onion and stir to coat evenly. Cover the pot and cook the onion until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the flour and cook, 3-4 minutes, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon.
Gradually add the mussel cooking liquid and fish broth, using a whisk to work out any lumps after each addition. Add the sachet and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently, 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and skimming as necessary.
Discard the sachet. Strain the soup through cheesecloth or a fine sieve. Return the soup to the stove and bring to a simmer.
Make a liaison by blending the egg yolk with the cream in a bowl. Stir in about 1 cup of the hot soup, then stir the heated liaison mixture into the soup. Simmer, 3 minutes.
Add the mussel meat to the soup and simmer until the mussels are heated through. Adjust the seasoning. Serve in heated bowls.