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Mussel Bisque with Saffron

Mussel Bisque with Saffron
Although mussel bisque tastes complex, it is easy to prepare and is ideal for a special dinner. While it is festive and rich, it will not break the bank, as mussels are among the most reasonably priced shellfish at the market.

Ingredients:

  • 5 lb. mussels, well scrubbed
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • About 4 cups water or fish broth
  • 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chopped leek or yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped fennel (optional)
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • 2 cups peeled and diced red potato
  • 1 tsp. saffron threads, steeped in 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 1 orange zest strip, 3 inches long
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, heated
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or chervil

Directions:

Discard any mussels that do not close to the touch. In a large, wide pan over high heat, combine the mussels and wine. Cover and cook, shaking the pan from time to time, until the mussels open, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and, when the mussels are cool enough to handle, discard any that did not open. Remove the remainder from their shells, picking off and discarding the beards and the shells. Pour the liquid through a sieve lined with damp cheesecloth placed over a large bowl. Add water as needed to measure about 6 cups. Cover the cooked mussels with about 1 cup of the cooking liquid and refrigerate.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leek and fennel, if using, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, potato, saffron and sherry, orange zest and the remaining 5 cups cooking liquid. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the potato is soft, about 20 minutes.

Select 18 to 24 perfect mussels for garnish and add the rest to the soup, along with the liquid in the bowl. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the cream and reheat very gently over very low heat, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle into warmed bowls. Garnish with the reserved whole mussels and the parsley and serve immediately.
Serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series, Soup for Supper, by Joyce Goldstein (Time-Life Books, 1998).