"What's the big deal about mussels?"
That's the question I asked myself when I arrived at Maxim's in Paris back in 1970 as a 21-year-old chef.
After all, the oval black shellfish were something you saw on harbor pilings, hardly what you'd expect to star in one of that famous restaurant's signature soups, bilibi.
But one taste of the fresh mussels, floating in a creamy broth, and I declared it one of the best soups I had ever tasted: rich, fragrant, slightly briny, and showcasing the plump sweetness of fresh mussel meat.
Naturally, I put something like that soup on my own menu when, in the late 1970s, I became chef of Ma Maison in Hollywood. And, just as I had almost a decade earlier, all my customers seemed to ask, "What's the big deal?" Nobody ordered the soup. I quickly learned that its lack of popularity reflected a feeling among most Americans at the time that mussels were a humble ingredient eaten only by some people in New England and the Pacific Northwest.
Clams, however, were another story. Americans loved them. So I added clams to my mussel soup recipe and, in no time at all, it was a best-seller.
With great fresh mussels and clams still abundantly in season, now is the perfect time to try my recipe for this shellfish soup. Making it begins with a visit to the best seafood shop near you, one that has a reputation for offering a wide variety and quick turnover of outstanding product. Buy only shellfish that have a fresh, clean, briny smell of the ocean; avoid any that aren't tightly closed or that, when tapped with your finger, do not close in reaction. When you get them home, transfer them to a bowl, cover with a clean damp kitchen towel or paper towel, and refrigerate; do not store them submerged in any water, fresh or salt. Cook them within a day of purchase.
When following the recipe, take special care not to overcook the shellfish, removing them from the pan as their shells open. Properly cooked in this way, their meat will be wonderfully tender and succulent; overcooked, they can turn rubbery and chewy. In its most rustic form, the clams and mussels are served still in their shells. If you prefer a more elegant presentation, shuck them simply by pulling the meat out of the shells before returning the morsels to the broth.
Whichever way you present it, the soup is warming, flavorful, and incredibly satisfying. Serve it to start a special meal. Or offer it as a main course, accompanied by toasted country-style bread and a glass of white wine with good acidity such as a Sancerre or Chablis.
Clam & Mussel Soup Recipe
Serves 6 to 8
- 1 quart store-bought fish broth or bottled clam juice
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 medium organic carrot, peeled and diced
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 2-inch piece celery stalk, diced
- 1 quart heavy organic cream
- 18 to 24 fresh mussels, beards removed, shells rinsed and scrubbed
- 12 to 16 small fresh clams, shells rinsed and scrubbed
- 2 medium shallots, minced
- 1/2 bottle dry white wine
- Freshly ground white pepper
- Lemon juice
- 1 cup mixed thin julienne strips of fresh vegetables such as daikon (Japanese white radish), hothouse cucumber skins, or red, yellow, or green organic bell peppers, stored in a bowl of iced water until ready to use, for garnish
In a large saucepan, bring the fish stock to a boil over high heat. Continue boiling until it reduces by half its volume, 10 to 15 minutes.
In another saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the carrot, onion, and celery and cook, covered, until tender, about 10 minutes. Uncover the pan, add the cream, raise the heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the cream reduces to half its volume, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave the vegetables to steep in the cream for 30 minutes.
Hold a strainer over the pan of fish stock and strain in the cream, discarding the diced vegetables. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, white pepper, and lemon juice. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, combine the mussels, clams, shallots, and wine. Cover and steam over moderate heat until the shells start to open, about 5 minutes. Remove any opened clams or mussels to a warm bowl and continue to steam the shellfish for several minutes more, transferring any more opened shells to the platter. Discard any unopened clams or mussels.
Uncover the pan, raise the heat slightly, and simmer the cooking liquid briskly until it has reduced almost to a glaze, 25 to 30 minutes.
Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and strain the reduced liquid into the mixture of fish stock and cream. Also pour through the strainer any juices that have collected on the shellfish platter. Taste the resulting soup and adjust the seasonings, if necessary, with a little more salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Quickly drain the vegetable julienne strips and pat them thoroughly dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.
To serve, ladle the soup into heated soup bowls. Divide the mussels and clams evenly among the bowls. Arrange a nest of the vegetable julienne in the center of each bowl. Serve immediately.
Clam & Mussel Soup Recipe - Wolfgang Puck Recipes
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