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.
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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.
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.
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.
Add 1 cup water and 1 cup of dry white wine to a medium to 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.
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.
Ladle bisque into individual bowls and add a handful of the remaining whole mussel meats to each bowl. Add optional seasonings, to taste.
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.