Saturday, September 20, 2014

Billi Bi...An Elegant French Soup

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This fast, easy, inexpensive mussel soup from France is—no joke—one of the world’s most luxurious dishes. Try Billi Bi when you feel deeply deserving of sparkling seafood in a creamy sauce.- Food And Wine

And that just about sums it up.

One of the advantages of having Madame Mere in house is getting to enjoy all those traditional French recipes my daughter deems as too fancy for her taste.  MM and I don't care, we are old school and the fancier the better.  Elegant doesn't necessarily have to be complicated or arduous...Caviar is elegant and all you have to do is open a tin.  The better the quality, the less you need to embellish it.

Last Friday I got Madame Mere motorized and we took on the new Costco in town.  It opened a couple of weeks ago, less than a mile from the house.   I am in is the highlight of the year and that goes to show you how the last six month have been.

There are a couple of things that I have finally managed to get my mother to do and getting on a motorized shopping cart is one of them. The other one we are working on is the debit card. She hates it.  This is a lady who still keeps a register and writes checks to everyone, including the grocery store.  I can't get through to her that she can still enter the amounts on her debit card in her checkbook by keeping the receipts I methodically put in a small envelope.  But come time to "balance her checkbook" the receipts are nowhere to be found (she throws them away to spite me) and I get drilled on each item on her monthly statement that is not in her register.  So the debit card is still a work in progress and the winner of this battle is still to be determined, though I have a slight edge. 

The cart was easier, much to my surprise.  She took to it like a duck to water and, before I knew it, she was off to the races.  First stop...a hot dog for lunch.  The promise of food usually does the trick.

Two hours later and umpteen bags of cookies and bread we were both exhausted and in bed for the night.  It was an expensive outing, like taking a kid to a toy store for the first time and I felt I had just crossed the Rubicon..  One of the things I managed to pick up in the mayhem was a large bag of fresh mussels for $10  which  could not be passed  up.  My daughter is allergic and cannot bear to even smell them, so the bag was sneaked into the back of the refrigerator to be promptly eaten the next day when she was at work.

Moules Mariniere were served for lunch and the leftovers carefully packed for the next day, again out of sight.  I knew I wanted to make a soup, or use the mussels as part of a fish stew.  A mussel risotto was also under consideration but in the end, this old favorite won hands down for it was a cool day, the first of the Fall, and I did not want to fuss.

If you make the mussels, mariniere style one day, the leftovers can be used the next day for this fabulous soup.  It comes together in no time.   I will give you the quick version at the end of the recipe.

 The classic recipe for Billi Bi strains the broth to leave a smooth soup but nowadays the mussels are often left in as an added bonus. In both versions below they feature prominently in the soup. Should you have any leftovers of the broth, you can serve it in small demitasse cups or glasses and pass them around during cocktails. elegant is that! This soup may be served hot or at room temperature.  

If you like mussels, this is one of the best ways to enjoy them.  It makes for an elegant first course for  a dinner party or a main course for lunch with a fresh baguette.  There is no need for anything else, except for a good bottle of white wine, espresso and chocolates for dessert and a short siesta..  Don't overdo the siesta or you will be useless for the rest of the day.  Thirty minutes is more than enough!


As an afterthought, keep this in mind when you are entertaining guests for the weekend.  Mariniere Friday night with frites and Billi Bi for lunch the next day.
Billi Bi, French Mussel Soup  

Serves 4 to 6

  1. Ingredients
  2. 3 parsley sprigs
  3. 2 thyme sprigs
  4. 1 bay leaf
  5. 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  6. 5 shallots, finely chopped (1 cup)
  7. 1 leek chopped (optional)
  8. 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  9. 1 carrot, finely chopped
  10. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  11. Salt (I feel the mussels have more than enough so would not add until the end, if at all)
  12. Freshly ground pepper
  13. Pinch of cayenne pepper
  14. 1 1/2 cups dry white wine (I use 3/4 bottle of wine)
  15. 3 pounds mussels (preferably Prince Edward Island or Penn Cove), scrubbed and debearded
  16. 2 cups heavy cream
  17. 2 large egg yolks
  18. 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  19. Crusty bread, for serving

  1. Using kitchen string, tie the parsley and thyme sprigs with the bay leaf to make a bouquet garni. Melt the butter in a large enameled cast-iron casserole. Add the bouquet garni, shallots, leek, celery, carrot, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and the cayenne. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the wine and boil until reduced by half, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the mussels, cover and cook, shaking the casserole occasionally, until the mussels are wide open, 4 to 6 minutes.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels and vegetables to a large bowl; discard the bouquet garni. Remove the mussels from their shells and add them to the vegetables. Strain the mussel broth through several layers of cheesecloth. Rinse out the casserole.
  3. Return the broth to the casserole. Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. In a medium bowl, gradually whisk 1/4 cup of the creamy broth into the egg yolks. Whisk the yolk mixture into the simmering soup and immediately remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the mussel and vegetable mixture and the chives and season with salt and pepper. Serve the soup with crusty bread.
MAKE AHEAD The soup can be refrigerated for 2 days; reheat gently.


Quick Version
First day:
Enjoy a meal of  Moules Mariniere:

Finely chop 3 shallots, 5 garlic cloves and some parsley.  In a big pot melt 4 Tb butter and sautee the shallots and garlic until golden brown.  Add the parsley, bay leaf and some thyme.  Add the mussels together with 3/4 of a bottle of white wine. Bring to a boil, cover and steam the mussels until they open.  Remove some of the mussels so you can add 1 cup of heavy cream to the broth. Stir and warm but do not boil.  You can skip the cream here if you want but make sure you add this cup in #3 when making the soup.  Enjoy your Moules Mariniere!

Store the leftovers as follows:
Remove the mussels from the shells, saving some shells for decoration if you want.  Add the mussels to the leftover broth and store in an airtight container until the next day.

Second day:

Strain the mussel broth through several layers of cheesecloth or use a chinois.  Reserve the vegetables and mussels in a plate.

Grate 1 carrot and some celery. Add to the vegetables and mussels set aside...

Go to #3 of the recipe above and proceed from there using the two egg yolks.  If you have added the cream to the moules mariniere only add 1/4 cup here.  If not add 1 cup of heavy cream.  Remember these are the leftovers and you have already downed some of the broth in your first meal!


  1. Billy Bi is such an elegant and classy soup and your presentation is so lovely. I know it must have tasted wonderful. I'm old school too and many people don't realize how easy the classics are to put together. They think they are complicated when they're not really and Billy Bi is an excellent example.

    MM and my father-in-law are of like minds on the check book issue. I don't mind that they still write checks, but I have to confess I always dread being behind them in a busy supermarket because it takes more time to write out a check than to swipe a card and then the procedures the clerk must go through to finish their transaction seems to take a lifetime (especially if you're the one behind them in line). With regard to the motorized scooters, my father-in-law drove like he was in the Indy 500. I reflect back and think it must have been the highlight of his day to go to the supermarket and drive those carts.

    I hope it's a cool and crisp where you are as it is here. Fall is definitely in the air.

    I try to be tolerant of old school practices because it's one of those "never say never" things. I'll probably do the same one day. :)

    1. MM and your father in law are a match made in heaven. Too bad we don't live closer. We could take them to the grocery store and set them lose! I had to tell Mother the cart was not a Jaguar . You should see her backing up and making uturns. Guess it makes up for not been able to drive anymore. No, it's not crisp here yet. A little in the evenings and I guess early morning. I am so sick of summer!

  2. I just realized I misspelled Billi Bi in my comment. I should be more careful typing when I've just gotten up. Je suis désolée.

  3. As we were driving past the partly constructed Costco a few miles up the road, I began to tell my companion about this blog posting, and how it represented the kind of food writing that I like best in the world. Which is to say, that it goes beyond the rote listing of a recipe, to supplying a discreet glimpse of your personal life, without ever once lapsing into self indulgence. On top of that, the entrance of Madame Mere into the proceedings seems to me a definite enrichment. Long may she remain in the spotlight!

    1. It's funny how these older ladies, like the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey, always seem to steal the spotlight. I have to be careful though lest the sous chef gets too jealous. I am so proud of the way Costco did their warehouse here in town. You can't even see it from the road. I was so afraid it was going to spoil the country image of our town with increased traffic etc. It hasn't and I am delighted to say the least.

      Thank you for your comment. It makes it more fun for me also. To think that in my time we didn't even get photos. I will pass it on to MM though I have to be careful lest all these accolades go to her head. Next thing she'll want to get royalties...

  4. This looks so decadent and will surely be a hit if my husband gets a whiff of it. He loves these types of seafood dishes and adding cream to anything is always a plus.

    Loved hearing about your adventures at Costco, especially as you managed to get Madame Mere out of the house in style.

    1. Getting MM out of the house in style takes quite a bit longer than making this special soup. If your husband likes mussels, he will be on his knees!

  5. How remarkable to have Madame Mere with you! Your mother is daring for her age? The soup is very fine and one of my favorites. Oh my, I haven't made it in ever so long but you have inspired me indeed. Missed reading your blog... life has a way of sucking all my time these days!

  6. It's hectic here too, what with MM and everything else going on. This is a great and easy soup. comes together in no time especially if you make mussels the day before. Great to see you!


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