Saturday, March 14, 2015

Billi Bi

Maxim's restaurant opened in Paris in 1893. Legend has it that an American businessman, William B. Leeds Sr, was so in love with their cream of mussels soup that Maxime Gaillard, owner of Maxim's, named the soup in his honor (it's actually pronounced Billy Bee).

If you like New England clam chowder, I would like to introduce you to his older brother. Billi Bi is richer, more attractive and has impeccable taste. The best way to describe it is luxurious. It is a true celebration of elegant French cooking.

I like to get my mussels at Costco. They always have incredibly fresh mussels on Friday and Saturday at their weekend seafood carts. They are incredibly cheap ($1.99 per pound) and they come scrubbed and de-bearded.....which saves a ton of prep time.

Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey are responsible for this recipe, which they call "One of the sublime creations on Earth". This recipe will serve four as an entree or eight as an appetizer. I'd go for the entree portion....anything less will make you feel like you got screwed. And don't forget the French baguette.

2 pounds mussels
2 shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 small white onions, peeled and quartered
2 sprigs parsley, plus chopped parsley for garnish
Kosher salt
Pepper, to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup dry white wine, like pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups heavy cream
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten


  1. Scrub mussels well to remove dirt and, if necessary, remove beards.
  2. Place mussels in large saucepan or Dutch oven and add shallots, onions, parsley, salt, pepper, cayenne, wine, butter, bay leaf and thyme. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer 8 to 10 minutes, or until mussels have opened. Discard any that have not opened.
  3. Strain liquid through a colander lined with cheesecloth and reserve; this is the base for the soup.
  4. When cool enough to handle, remove mussels from shells and reserve. Discard shells and aromatics.
  5. Bring reserved liquid to a low boil in a small saucepan. Add cream and return mixture almost to a boil, then remove from heat. Let cool slightly then add egg yolk and stir to combine. Return saucepan to heat and let thicken slightly. (Do not boil.)
  6. Taste and adjust seasoning. To serve, arrange mussels in center of large soup dishes and spoon liquid over them. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Wine pairing: A nice oaky Chardonnay

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