Billi Bi: “The most elegant and delicious soup ever created.”

Last March, I decided to venture up the Woodstock (N.Y.) way in an effort to break up the monotony of late winter. I set an intention to disconnect from the technological stranglehold of which is so commonplace to so many of us. I also wanted to get in touch with myself in a peaceful setting that boasts a variety of different offerings: tranquility in nature, elation through food, and inherent charm in locale. While leafing through the pages of the Food section of The Times during breakfast, I stumbled upon a picture of a creamy, mouth-watering soup with mussels also known as Billi Bi, a decadency with Parisian roots.

This past winter was not kind to the mussels industry along the Eastern Seaboard region. A prolonged winter, coupled with omnipresent ice coatings over the sea complicated the harvesting and distribution of mussels. When I came across this recipe and the celebratory sentiment associated with it, I knew I had to create this dish. The creamy consistency, depth of flavor, and fresh mussels make this soup an instant classic.

Billi Bi is inherently easy to craft. First, you create the broth of which consists of mussels, shallots, onions, parsley, butter, a bay leaf, more butter, white wine, and seasonings. You then steam the mussels in a pot with the wine, which also allows additional liquid to pour out and pair ever so nicely with the broth itself. The last few steps are perhaps the most gratifying and enjoyable of all: harvesting the mussels, adding cream to the broth, and finishing with whisked egg yolk to create an absolute stunner of a soup.

I served Billi Bi with bread from Antique Bakery in Hoboken, along with a glass of white wine and Yotam Ottolengthi’s herb-stuffed tomatoes for my girlfriend’s birthday dinner. Craig Claiborne, the refiner of this classic Billi Bi recipe, sums it up perfectly: “one of the sublime creations on Earth.”

Billi Bi
Recipe adapted from NYT Cooking
Serves 4 as an entrée; 8 as an appetizer

2 lbs. 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 c. dry white wine, like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 c. heavy cream
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

Scrub mussels well to remove dirt and, if necessary, remove beards.

Place mussels in a 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 8-10 minutes, or until mussels have opened. Discard any that have not opened.

Strain liquid through a colander lined with cheesecloth and reserve; this is the base for the soup.

When cool enough to handle, remove mussels from shells and reserve. Discard shells and aromatics.

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.)

Taste and adjust seasoning. To serve, arrange mussels in center of large soup dishes and spoon liquid over them. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

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