Perfect for a starter or as a light meal, this creamy fragrant soup made with mussels cooked in white wine and saffron comes with a vegetable garnish and crunchy fennel seed breadcrumbs.
One of the many perks of living at the coast is all year round fresh seafood! Hence I cook mussels for the family every other week. Simply cooked 'a la maniere' with shallots and white wine, served with a baguette and garlic herb butter, it is always a hit with everyone.
But sometimes, I like to present these mussels a bit fancier. Served as an appetizer when we have guests over, I avoid having them get their hands dirty hence prepare the soup with mostly shelled mussels.
This delicious bowl of creamy mussel and saffron soup is a perfect start to a meal and in fact even rich enough to be a main course!
Either way, let's go that extra mile and bring our mussel game to the next level, with this restaurant style soup also called a mussel chowder.
Besides fresh mussels from your local fish monger, you need an array of vegetables. Shallots, potatoes, leek, brown onions and garlic make this mussel chowder a perfect hearty meal. For herbs, I used thyme, bay leaf and parsley, feel free to swap! Coriander goes well with mussels too or add an Asian touch with lemongrass and kaffir lime.
Nothing pairs better with mussels than white wine. I use a dry white wine, not an expensive one but still good enough to drink the rest while cooking the soup😉 In addition to these, you will need chicken stock, butter and cream.
As for the saffron, it's a delicate, expensive spice but really you don't want to go without this pungent, aromatic flavour - it makes all the difference!
But if you can't get your hands on this magical spice, add madras curry powder or turmeric for that yellow colour instead.
HOW TO CLEAN MUSSELS
Depending where your mussels come from, they need to be thoroughly cleaned to avoid biting on gritty sand. The best way is to keep them in a pot with cold running water. Most importantly throw away any broken or open mussels.
Use a kitchen towel to remove the beard (the hairy part sticking out on the side of the mussel). Rinse again under cold water and strain for 5 minutes.
HOW TO COOK MUSSELS
The most popular way to cook mussels is with white wine and shallots. You will be left with a flavourful broth that is simple and easy to make. It can be eaten with the mussels as a meal on it's own. For our soup however, we need a large amount of broth hence we are adding chicken stock as well.
To cook the mussels, start sweating the sliced shallots in a large pot with butter for 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Add the mussels and increase heat to high. Add the thyme, bay leaves, white wine.
Next, add chicken stock and give everything a good stir. Cover with a lid and cook until they open - should be about 5-8 minutes.
When they are cooked, strain the cooking liquid for the soup and chill the mussels to use later.
REMEMBER: Any mussels that have not opened - discard them!
MUSSEL SOUP RECIPE
The mussel soup is an extra step but definitely worth it. The first step is to cook the creamy soup and the second, is to prepare the garnish with all the remaining vegetables and herbs.
making the soup
In a large pot on high heat, sear the sliced onion, fennel, leek, garlic and potato with a bit of butter. Sear for about 4-5 minutes without giving colour to the vegetables. Add the saffron threads and deglaze with the mussel stock.
Add cream and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer covered with a lid for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
Meanwhile pick the cooked mussels from their shells keeping a few in their shell for decoration. Keep refrigerated until needed. Mix the soup with a stick blender or smoothie blender until creamy and smooth.
AS A NOTE: Mussels release the ocean water trapped in their shells when cooked making the broth quite salty. Be careful when seasoning the soup as it might become salty easily.
preparing the garnish
I used the remaining potato, leek and onion and cut them into small cubes. I stewed them in a pan until they became translucent and soft for about 8-10 minutes. Just season lightly with salt and pepper and keep on the side.
finishing the soup
Heat the soup on low heat and add the mussels, vegetables and chopped parsley. Bring to a simmer and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed.
Use the mussels in the shell to garnish the plate and sprinkle the fennel seed breadcrumbs.
FENNEL SEED BREADCRUMBS
The fennel seed breadcrumbs are a nice garnish for anything seafood. I used to make it at work to sprinkle over a bouillabaise soup but it works well with salads too like this orange and fennel salad.
To make the crumbs, remove the rind from toast bread and mix in a food processor until small crumbs form. In a pan on low heat, toss the fennel seeds with the crumbs, tossing occasionally until well toasted. Add sea salt and chopped fennel fronds and toss a few more times.
Store in an airtight container in a dry spot at room temperature. When stored correctly, it will stay crisp for about a week.
Buy mussels from a trusted fishmonger rather than the supermarket as mussels should always be bought fresh! If you have a long shopping list, it's best to keep them last on your list to avoid them having to travel around for too long.
Mussels should be stored in the fridge before use. If they have been bought fresh they can last for 2-3 days. Best is to keep them in a colander with a bowl to catch any liquid dripping down. Cover them with a wet kitchen cloth to avoid them drying out.
The best way to determine if they are fresh or old is to smell them. Fresh mussels smell like ocean water in a pleasant way and the shells should be closed. Old mussels will smell fishy and stay open when you tap them.
This mussel chowder is relatively simple to make but tastes totally lavish! Great for entertaining or even a midweek meal! And now that the mussels mostly come cleaned and scrubbed, it isn't half the bother it used to be😋
Creamy Mussel and Saffron Soup
- large pot with lid
- food processor and stick blender
- small pan
for the mussels
- 2 kilogram mussels unopened
- 2 shallots peeled and sliced
- 2 thyme sprigs
- 2 bay leaf
- 300 millilitre white wine
- 500 millilitre chicken stock
- 15 gram butter
for the soup
- 1 large potato peeled
- 1 medium fennel
- 1 leek
- 1 medium brown onion peeled
- 2 garlic cloves peeled
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
- 250 millilitre cooking cream
- 20 gram butter
- ½ lemon
- salt and pepper
for the fennel breadcrumbs
- 2 slices white toast bread
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon chopped fennel fronds
- ½ teaspoon sea salt flakes
for the mussels
- Use a kitchen towel to remove the beard (the hairy part sticking out on the side of the mussel). Rinse under cold water and strain for 5 minutes.
- Put a large pot on medium heat and add the butter. When the butter has melted add the shallots and cook for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally.
- Add the mussels and increase the heat to high. Then add the thyme sprig, bay leaves, white wine and chicken stock and toss once more.
- Cover with a lid and cook until the mussels have opened, about 5-8 minutes. If any mussels don't open, throw them away.
- Strain the broth and keep the mussels in the fridge to chill.
for the soup
- Cut the potato in half and then into thin slices. Cut the white part of the leek in half lengthwise and slice thinly. Remove the green fonds of the fennel and set aside. Remove the outer part of the fennel and slice thinly. Keep the core aside. Slice half of the onion and the garlic cloves into thin slices.
- In a large pot on high heat, sear the vegetables with half of the butter. Sear for about 4-5 minutes without giving colour to the vegetables. Add the saffron threads and deglaze with the mussel stock.
- Add cream and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer covered with a lid for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
- Meanwhile pick the cooked mussels from their shells keeping a few in their shell for decoration. Keep refrigerated until needed. Mix the soup with a stick blender or smoothie blender until creamy and smooth.
for the fennel breadcrumbs
- Remove the rind from toast bread and mix in a food processor until small crumbs form. In a pan on low heat combine the fennel seeds with the crumbs, tossing occasionally until well toasted. Add sea salt and chopped fennel fronds and toss a few more times. Set aside until needed.
for the garnish
- Cut the remaining vegetables into small cubes and stew them in a pan until they became translucent and soft for about 8-10 minutes. Just season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Before serving heat up the vegetables and mussels in the soup and finish with chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed.
- Sprinkle the soup with the fennel breadcrumbs.