Saffron Mussel Soup
This is an elegant version of moules marinières, suffused with the colour and smell of saffron. It can be a complete meal when accompanied with good bread and a green salad.
2 pounds fresh scrubbed mussels (de-beard if necessary, and discard any with broken shells or that do not close tightly when tapped)
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup good fish or chicken stock
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
16 strands of good-quality saffron (approximately)
Melt one tablespoon of the butter in a deep pot, add the shallots and cook on low heat until soft and translucent but not browned.
Increase the heat to medium, add the mussels, stock and wine, and cover the pot. Shake the pot a few times during cooking to redistribute the mussels. Do not overcook. The mussels are done when the shells open (about 5 minutes).
Use a slotted spoon to remove the mussels. Then remove the meat from the shells and set aside. Reserve eight mussels in their shells, for garnish.
Remove two tablespoons of the warm broth from the pot and place in a small bowl. Grind about eight strands of saffron to a powder in a mortar and pestle, add to the bowl and set aside for a few minutes to soften.
Pass the rest of the broth through a chinois and return it to the pot. Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of softened butter with 2 tablespoons of flour and whisk into the warm broth. Heat to a slow boil, whisking until the soup thickens and the flour is cooked. It should be about the consistency of heavy cream. (Thin with chicken broth or cream if necessary.)
Return the unshelled mussels to the soup, add the saffron mixture and heat through. Serve immediately in large bowls, garnished with some chopped parsley, 2 mussels in the shell and one or two crumbled saffron threads for colour. (You can also add a dollop of sour cream for extra punch.)