#9 steamed mussel bisque

The beach was always a fantastic place to enjoy our Caribbean seafood cuisine to the max.  Whether it be at a renowned local restaurant or from the kitchen of the many beach houses inhabited by the city folk on long holidays, ‘eating fresh’ doesn’t get any better.  Seafood dishes are an integral part of the coastal regions in Honduras, and many of the Afro-Caribbean groups that inhabit the northern coast are widely known for their fishing villages.  Everyday, the people go fishing; living off the ocean and sticking to this unique lifestyle, that includes any excuse to sing and dance!

In the old world, seafood is treated and prepared somewhat differently.  French and Nordic cuisines have many delicious seafood dishes, and I have loved to explore this new side of the culinary arts, since most of the experience I’ve had with seafood is our typical fried fish or the famous ceviche enjoyed in our tropical countries.

Blue mussels, or the common mussels,  are the staple of many seafood dishes in European cuisine: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Belgian, & Italian.  Farm-raised black mussels are a great environmental choice since they are one of the few farmed animals that actually contribute to improving the environment they’re raised in.  They require no feed and, like other shellfish, absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  They may well be the world’s most sustainable meat: an eco-friendly choice and one of the cheapest & tastiest forms of animal protein available!

For the Bisque

  • 3/4 cup of butter
  • 1/2 cup of onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 teaspoons of saffron
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 1-1/2 cups of half-and-half
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup of chopped parsley

A bisque is a creamy seasoned soup of French origin.  It’s based on the steamed broth of crustaceans, and traditionally uses the shells, grounded to a paste, to thicken the soup.  Wine and cream are also key additions.  Unlike chowder, its French cousin, bisque is creamy and smooth, and does not include vegetable or seafood chunks.  My bisque is a less-than-authentic version of the French original – mainly because I don’t do the whole shell paste thing, resorting to bread rather than shells to thicken my broth.

To begin, melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, carrots, saffron, salt & pepper.  Sauté until aromas are released.  Reduce to low and cook for about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and place sautéed mixture into food processor.  Add the wine, purée completely, and place the blend back into the saucepan.

To Steam the Mussels

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
  • 2 pounds (1000g) of common mussels, medium-sized
  • 1/4 cup of white wine, red wine, or water
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 cup (25g) of chopped parsley
  • 1 lemon, sliced

First step is to wash and rinse the mussels well before steaming, discarding any that don’t close.  If mussels are alive, I suggest reading up on the proper way to pick and clean them.  Since we do not live near the seacoast, I usually buy the packaged pre-steamed kind with shells – which also gives me a bigger sense of security that we probably won’t be getting sick over them.

Place olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the garlic and red pepper and sizzle, without browning.  Add the mussels and stir to coat.  Increase the heat to high.  Add the liquid of choice: white wine, red wine, or water.  White wine is my top recommendation, but I have also worked with mussels & red wine and we thought it added a certain sweetness to the recipe, but not bad at all!  If you use water, I suggest adding a teaspoon or two of vinegar, just to enhance a bit of the acidity the wine tends to infuse.  Place the lid on the pot.

After about two minutes, give the mussels a stir and continue cooking until they start to open, about 8 minutes.  Mussels expel liquid on their own, so they will steam in their own vapors and their aroma will rapidly fill your kitchen.  Yum!  Once a good amount of mussels have opened, stir in the chopped parsley, lemon slices, and salt & pepper.  Remove from heat.  Ladle up to 2 cups of the mussel broth to the saucepan with the puréed bisque blend and simmer uncovered until it boils.  Add the half-and-half & heavy cream and heat without letting it boil.  Stir in parsley and salt & pepper to taste.  Place in serving bowls (traditionally in a low two-handle cup or a mug) and add garlic butter toast & mussels to garnish.  Serve hot, with steamed mussels on the side.

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