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Mussel Soup with Saffron

Updated February 23, 2016
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This is a heady soup redolent of the sea and richly infused with saffron and cream. Using the essence of mussel juice created by steaming the mussels in white wine adds an unusual dimension to the flavor. I like to use Prince Edward Island or other rope-cultured mussels, because they’re a nice small size and I’ve found them to be tastier and cleaner than other mussels, but any mussels you can find will do just fine. Simple accompaniments, like a big green salad and a loaf of warm crusty bread, are all that’s needed to turn this soup into a pleasant supper.

Cleaning Mussels

Fill a bucket with cold water. Add the mussels and a handful of salt. Soak the for about an hour to dislodge the dirt and any grit from around the lip of the shells, then remove them from the water and place in a colander in the sink. Under cold running water, use a stiff brush to vigorously scrub off any remaining grit or barnacles from each mussel. Leave the hairy “beard” that protrudes from the side of each shell intact for now. Discard any mussels with open or broken shells. Just before you plan on cooking the mussels, use your fingers or the dull side of a paring knife to pull off the beards.

SERVES6 TO 8 AS A MAIN COURSE

CostModerate

Moderate

Total Timeunder 2 hours

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe Courseappetizer, main course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, peanut free, soy free

Mealdinner

Moodfestive

Taste and Texturecreamy, herby, rich, salty, savory, spiced, umami, winey

Type of Dishhot soup

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds mussels
  • 1 bottle (750 ml) dry white wine, such as a Pinot Blanc or Chardonnay
  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallots
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, cut into small dice
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads, soaked
  • 4 cups Chicken Stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups heavy or whipping cream
  • Kosher salt, to taste (optional)
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • Fresh lemon juice, to taste
  • 1 bunch chives, snipped, for garnish

Instructions

Soak, clean, and debeard the mussels (see Notes).

Place the mussels in a medium-size, nonreactive saucepan or stockpot. Add the wine, shallots, and garlic. Cover the pan and place it over high heat. Steam the mussels until they open, about 5 to 8 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally to redistribute the mussels as they steam.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the mussels to a bowl and set them aside, discarding any that haven’t opened. Pour the cooking liquid through a strainer lined with cheesecloth into a heatproof bowl and set aside. When the mussels are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the shells, discarding the shells. Cover the mussels to keep them warm while you prepare the soup.

Rinse out the saucepan and wipe it dry. Add the butter and melt over medium-low heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, stir in the flour, and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture develops a nutty aroma, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to let the flour brown.

Add the mussel cooking liquid, saffron, and chicken stock and whisk well. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes, to reduce the liquid somewhat and blend the flavors. Reduce the heat so the liquid simmers briskly and whisk in the cream. Cook until slightly thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Taste the soup. If it’s not the desired strength, continue simmering to reduce it and further concentrate the flavors. Taste again and season with salt (if necessary), cayenne, and lemon juice.

To serve, divide the mussels among soup plates and ladle the hot soup over them. Garnish with snipped chives.

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