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Sunday 27 December 2009

Mussel Soup

I first ate mussels many years ago as a student in Granada, when a neighbour came over to prepare us a paella. While it was cooking we were given a tapa of fresh mussels, very simply prepared - just placed in a covered pan (if you like, with a dash of white wine), heated until the shells open (any that do not should be discarded), then eaten directly from the shells with a squeeze of lemon juice. They were absolutely delicious.

Excellent mussels are available from good fishmongers in many places in the UK but I think I’m right in saying that they are not widely prepared in British households - in spite of being extremely nutritious and pretty cheap. They must be very fresh and in their shells. I think they usually have a better texture when they are not too big. You will need to clean them before cooking - scrub and de-beard, then soak for a while in water with a dash of lemon juice to get out any grit.

Here are a couple of delicious, simple soups to try:

Mussel and Leek Soup

A Spanish friend often used to serve this at New Year - but you could also eat it cold on a hot summer day. It can be made the day before - keep the mussel meats to one side, and heat up before serving.

Ingredients (For four people)
1.5 kg mussels - only the freshest, from a good fishmonger
a splash of white wine
500 grams leeks
1 onion
a little olive oil
a pinch of flour
500 ml fish stock. If you want to make your own, salmon or monkfish heads are great for this. If you can’t be bothered, try a good delicatessen for a quality prepared stock.
a generous pinch of saffron (ground to a fine powder with a few grains of salt with a mortar and pestle)

Wash the mussels, pull out beards.
Place in large pan with a dash of wine and heat, shaking frequently, until the shells open.
Pull any remaining beards, and remove the meat from all but 4. Set aside.
Drain the mussel liquor through a sieve and keep.

Chop leeks and onion and add to a pan with a little olive oil. Cook on a low heat for about 3 mins. Stir in the flour until smooth.
Gradually add the mussel liquor, remaining wine and fish stock to the pan, stir until smooth. Bring to simmering point and then add the powdered saffron.
Cook for a further 25 mins.
Whizz the soup with a blender.
Heat through.

Just before serving, add the mussel meats and the mussels in their shells. Some people also add a swirl of cream.

Mussel Soup with Tomato and Chilli

A different kind of mussel soup can be made by making a sofrito with onion, garlic, some chopped red chillies, a couple of chopped ripe tomatoes and a cup of chopped fresh basil leaves. Then add the white wine and fish stock. Simmer for about 30 minutes, add the mussels and cook, covered, for 2-3 mins, until the shells have opened.

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