Mussel soup with saffron, fennel, cream and spinach
This soup is a pure wonder. Its cream-coloured surface, dotted with bright green spinach bits, tiny orange saffron twigs and shiny black mussels, looks so breathtakingly beautiful in the plate that dipping your spoon into it almost feels like a sacrilege. But no resistance is possible, the aromatic liquid and flavoured, tender and plump mussels will fill your mouth and nostrils with pure felicity. What a brilliant dish.

Mussel soup with saffron, fennel, cream and spinach

Posted on April 1, 2010
Categories: fish and seafood, Main Courses, Soups, Starter
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Recipe by: Paul Bertolli with Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Cooking (1988)
Busy:30 min, Total prep time: 30 min
Serves: 4 
Don't be scared by the lengthy explanations, this recipe is actually super quick and easy, but I am always paranoid with shellfish so I tend to over explain...


This part can be done 2 to 3 hours ahead if needed


Start by washing the mussels. Rinse them under running water and scrub their shell with a metal scourer or a small knife, removing the white marks and barnacles if there are any, and tugging off the little “beards” on the side when these are sticking out. Cultivated mussels are sold with very clean shells so they only need quick rinsing. If your mussels appear to be sandy, soak them for 4-5 minutes in fresh water with a pinch of coarse salt and a dash of milk, this will help them expel their sand. Rinse well under running water afterward. Do not let the mussels sit in water for too long otherwise they will lose some of their taste.

Discard any mussels that present either of the following: (1) shells are open AND do not close when you tap them; (2) shell is cracked; (3) mussel is unusually heavy, meaning it is probably full of sand.

Put the shallots, wine, bay leaves and thyme in a large stainless-steel saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the mussels, raise the heat to high, cover the pot and cook for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally until all the mussels have opened. Pour the mussels into a colander over a bowl to catch the liquid from the pan. Let the mussels cool down and reserve. Leave the liquid in the bowl to rest for a few minutes and pour slowly into another recipient to leave any remaining sand at the bottom of the bowl. If the liquid is still sandy, filter through a very fine sieve.

If you have 2 hours to go before serving time, keep the mussels in their shell under a wet (but not soaking) teatowel. My fishmonger told me cooked mussels could be kept at 19-20 degrees for a couple of hours that way, but I didn't risk it, I kept mine outside (temperature was 11 degrees). Avoid the fridge if you can, it may harden the mussels.

Wash the saucepan. Over low heat, melt the butter, add the saffron, fennel and salt and stew for 8 minutes, until it is softened. Add the strained mussel liquid, the water and cream and mix. Reserve in the fridge or in a cool place if not serving immediately.

Just before serving (4 minutes reheating work only, and absolutely NO stress!)


Bring the cream and fennel mixture to just under the boil. Add the chopped spinach and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the mussels. mix delicately and simmer for 2 minutes more. Generously pepper the soup and serve.

Don’t be scared by the lengthy explanations, this recipe is actually super quick and easy, but I am always paranoid with shellfish so I tend to over explain…

This part can be done 2 to 3 hours ahead if needed

Start by washing the mussels. Rinse them under running water and scrub their shell with a metal scourer or a small knife, removing the white marks and barnacles if there are any, and tugging off the little “beards” on the side when these are sticking out. Cultivated mussels are sold with very clean shells so they only need quick rinsing. If your mussels appear to be sandy, soak them for 4-5 minutes in fresh water with a pinch of coarse salt and a dash of milk, this will help them expel their sand. Rinse well under running water afterward. Do not let the mussels sit in water for too long otherwise they will lose some of their taste.

Discard any mussels that present either of the following: (1) shells are open AND do not close when you tap them; (2) shell is cracked; (3) mussel is unusually heavy, meaning it is probably full of sand.

Put the shallots, wine, bay leaves and thyme in a large stainless-steel saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the mussels, raise the heat to high, cover the pot and cook for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally until all the mussels have opened. Pour the mussels into a colander over a bowl to catch the liquid from the pan. Let the mussels cool down and reserve. Leave the liquid in the bowl to rest for a few minutes and pour slowly into another recipient to leave any remaining sand at the bottom of the bowl. If the liquid is still sandy, filter through a very fine sieve.

If you have 2 hours to go before serving time, keep the mussels in their shell under a wet (but not soaking) teatowel. My fishmonger told me cooked mussels could be kept at 19-20 degrees for a couple of hours that way, but I didn’t risk it, I kept mine outside (temperature was 11 degrees). Avoid the fridge if you can, it may harden the mussels.

Wash the saucepan. Over low heat, melt the butter, add the saffron, fennel and salt and stew for 8 minutes, until it is softened. Add the strained mussel liquid, the water and cream and mix. Reserve in the fridge or in a cool place if not serving immediately.

Just before serving (4 minutes reheating work only, and absolutely NO stress!)

Bring the cream and fennel mixture to just under the boil. Add the chopped spinach and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the mussels. mix delicately and simmer for 2 minutes more. Generously pepper the soup and serve.

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Keep your fresh, uncooked mussels in a bowl at the bottom of your fridge without any plastic wrapping and under a wet (but not soaking) folded tea towel.

The recipe requests that you chuck the mussels. I did not do it because I love the look of the shiny, dark mussel shells, and not doing it also cuts on the prep work. Obviously, the eating gets messier as you need to use your fingers, but my view is that a little bit of messy eating adds a nice touch of Gargantuesque spice to the dish. ;-)
Ingredients

750 g (1-1/2 pounds) live mussels
1 large shallot (45 g) finely diced
12 cL (1/2 cup) dry white wine (muscadet or Sauvignon blnc)
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Pinch of saffron (about 20 threwads)
12 cL (1/2 cup) finely diced fennel
A few pinches of salt
6 cL (1/4 cup) cup water
24 cL (1 cup) chopped fresh spinach
15 cL (2/3 cup) double cream
Freshly ground pepper

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