In New England Open-House Cookbook, author Sarah Leah Chase presents a wide-ranging cookbook for everyone who has skied the mountains of Vermont, sailed off the coast of Maine, dug for clams on the Cape, or just wishes they had. The book reflects the bountiful ingredients and recipes of New England – including a wealth of shellfish soups and stews, a full chapter celebrating lobster, 26 perfect picnic dishes, and luscious desserts – served up in evocative prose, gorgeous full-color photographs and more than 300 delicious recipes. This recipe for Mussel Bisque brings back flavors from the author’s childhood.
Mussel Bisque Recipe
Ever since my siblings and I were little kids we have been gathering mussels at low tide from the rocky shorefronts of various family homes on Blue Hill Bay in Maine. While delicious, these mussels tend to be quite large and their shells are often speckled with sharp barnacles. For a while, I became a bigger fan of the smaller mussels a friend of mine was gathering from Tuckernuck Island, a small island off of Nantucket. Then these wild mussels became infested with pesky little crabs and my friend stopped harvesting them. Nowadays the mussels that never disappoint me, and in fact thrill me, are the rope-cultured Casco Bay ones sold by the Browne Trading Company in Portland, Maine. These pristine mussels do not require much in the way of debearding or scrubbing and the meats are very tender and sweet. I’ll order pounds of them when hosting moules et frites dinner parties and they are the best mussels to use in this lovely bisque, one of the few hot soups I serve during the summer months because the flavors remind me of both Maine and the sun-drenched French Riviera. Serves 6 to 8.
• 2 cups water
• 3 cups dry white wine
• 3 pounds mussels, preferably small ones, scrubbed and debearded if necessary
• 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
• 1 medium-size onion, peeled and chopped
• 2 leeks, well rinsed, trimmed, and minced
• 2 carrots, peeled and cut into small dice
• 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or grated on a Microplane
• 3 small vine-ripened tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
• 1-1/2 cups light cream or half-and-half
• 3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
• 3 tablespoons finely slivered fresh basil
1. Pour the water and 1 cup of the wine into a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot. Add the mussels, cover the pot, and cook over high heat until the mussel shells open, 6 to 8 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open. When cool enough to handle, remove the mussels from their shells and set the mussels aside, discarding the shells. Strain the mussel cooking liquid through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup and set it aside. Wipe out the pot.
2. Melt the butter in the Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, leeks, carrots, and garlic and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and slowly cook the vegetables without browning them until very tender, 20 to 25 minutes, stirring them occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add the tomatoes and cook until they soften and cook slightly, about 5 minutes.
3. Add enough of the remaining 2 cups of wine to the strained mussel cooking liquid to measure 5 cups and pour this into the pot with the vegetables. Let come to a simmer and simmer, uncovered, until the flavors blend and strengthen, about 15 minutes.
4. Add the light and heavy cream and the mussels to the pot. Season the bisque with salt and pepper to taste. You may not need much salt, depending on how salty the mussels are. Cook the bisque, stirring it occasionally, until it is heated through, 7 to 8 minutes. Just before serving, add the dill and basil to the bisque. Serve the bisque hot but not piping hot, ladled into wide, shallow soup bowls.
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Reprinted with permission from New England Open-House Cookbook by Sarah Leah Chase and published by Workman Publishing, 2015.