How to Make a Mussel Bisque with Fennel

Seafood Soups

mussel bisque

The first time I made this recipe I made it the way everyone makes a mussel bisque. That is, you steam the mussels, strain the broth, remove the mussel meats from the shells and set them aside. Then you make the bisque. The reserved mussel meats are added whole at the end.

Well, I didn’t like it. It just didn’t have enough mussel flavor, especially the broth. It tasted like a mussel soup which wasn’t bad by any means but it just didn’t taste like a bisque. The defining feature of bisques are the rich and flavorful stocks that come from the shells of crustaceans such as lobsters, crab and crayfish. There is just no substitute for a homemade lobster stock when making a lobster bisque.

How to Make a Mussel Bisque Taste Like a Bisque

Mussel broth, as wonderful as it is, is a little too tame for bisque. It needs a little help to bring out some additional depth of flavor. So I re-made the recipe with two adjustments.

1. Reinforce the broth with clam broth/juice

You could also use lobster stock but I’ll take a wild guess and say you don’t have lobster stock lying around. Bar Harbor brand clam juice is by far the best store-bought option. Clam juice is a lot brinier than mussel broth and it will strengthen that background ocean flavor that is an essential characteristic of bisques.

2. Puree the mussel meats

Most chefs would consider this sacrilegious. But it gives the bisque a more mussel-rich flavor. I thought it worked like a charm. Every spoonful was thoroughly enhanced with that distinct but subtle sea essence of mussels. Yes, the bisque did turn a darker color which is why most chefs would find it unsuitable for serving. Admittedly, the bleak, greyish hue doesn’t look particularly great. But as a home cook, I’m not overly concerned with presentation. Nourishment and flavor are my primary concerns and this recipe fulfills both.

That said, chomping down on some whole mussels certainly enhances the experience and makes it more hearty and satisfying. In the recipe below, simply reserve one quarter of the mussels after steaming and add a few into each bowl when serving. Enjoy!

mussel bisque

Mussel Bisque with Fennel

Course Soup
Cuisine American, French
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Author Craig Fear


For the mussel broth

  • 3 pounds mussels rinsed and cleaned
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup additional clam broth or lobster stock, to measure about 4 cups of broth total (see instructions)

For the soup

  • 4 TBSPs unsalted butter
  • 1 fennel bulb cored and diced, about 1 ½ to 2 cups (make sure to reserve the fennel fronds)
  • 1 small to medium yellow onion
  • 1 carrot stalk
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups mussel broth
  • ¼ cup white rice
  • ¼ cup sherry or Madeira
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste
  • ¾ of the reserved mussel meats
  • 1-2 cups heavy cream
  • Fennel fronds chopped, about ¼ cup, loosely packed
  • Sea salt to taste
  • ¼ of the reserved mussel meats divided into each bowl

Optional seasonings, to taste

  • Salt and pepper
  • Fennel fronds chopped
  • Paprika pinch or two
  • Cayenne pinch
  • Nutmeg pinch or two
  • Splash sherry or Madeira


  1. Clean mussels of any dirt or debris by rinsing well in cold, running water. Discard any that are not tightly closed or whose shells are cracked or damaged.
  2. Add 1 cup water and 1 cup of dry white wine to a large stock pot and bring it to a rolling boil. Add the mussels, cover and steam for 5 to 10 minutes or until all the shells open. Discard any that do not open. Strain the mussel broth and set the mussels aside. You should get about 3 cups total. Add enough lobster stock or clam juice to the mussel broth to measure 4 cups of broth total.
  3. You can remove the mussel meats from the shells now or do it later when the rice is simmering. Set the mussel meats aside. You should get about 2 – 2 ½ cups total.
  4. Melt butter over medium heat in a medium-sized stock pot and add fennel, onion, carrot and bay leaf and saute about 5 to 10 minutes until softened and fragrant. Add garlic cloves in the last minute.
  5. Add mussel broth, white rice, sherry or Madeira and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a steady boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until rice is cooked through. Remove the bay leaf.
  6. Remove the stockpot from the stove top. Take ¾ of the mussel meats, add to the stock pot and puree the bisque with a handheld immersion blender. Be very careful not to splatter hot soup!
  7. Add 1 cup of cream and the fennel fronds and stir in. Add up to 1 more cup of cream, if desired. Salt, to taste.

  8. Ladle bisque into individual bowls and add a handful of the remaining whole mussel meats to each bowl. Add optional seasonings, to taste.

Fearless Eating may receive commissions from purchases made through links in this article. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. More info here.
How to Make a Mussel Bisque with Fennel

About the Author

Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.