Mussels are one of those things that you should feel proud when cooking. I always begin my mussel projects feeling very satisfied that I have brought these glossy black creatures home and will fearlessly make something of them. You can’t say me at 21 and me now are the same person, I have advanced this far.

Though there is nothing better than steaming them with wine, shallots, garlic, butter, parsley (…whatever else) and eating them with bread, this soup jumped into my mind the other day. I hadn’t made it for a year, but I remembered its description and title “a clear hot soup” and because it was cloudy and cold, it sounded delicious. If you are living in similar atmospheric conditions, it might appeal to you as well. It only has a few ingredients, so you will need something else to fill you up for dinner. Personally I’m not good at planning complete meals, so I made this, and then around 9pm Joe and I circled back for a second dinner. I’ve included more extensive mussel cooking directions at the bottom, if this is your first time.

A Clear Hot Mussel Soup

created by Nigel Slater, printed in The Kitchen Diaries, a lovely book

Serves 2-3 or more as an appetizer

a 2-lb bag of Mussels (this the typical grocery store size)*

3 cups Chicken or vegetable stock

a small hot red chili pepper (I could only find a jalapeno)

the juice of 2 limes

a little salt and sugar

a handful of cilantro leaves

Steam the mussels with a little bit of water in a heavy pot, with a lid, over high heat. After a few minutes, most of them will open wide. Pull those out while the others have a chance to cook. If a few at the end don’t open, throw them away.

In a separate pan, bring the stock to a boil. Cut up the pepper, get rid of the seeds, and chop up the rest of it. Add the pepper, the lime juice and a pinch of sugar and salt to the stock. Turn the heat down to a simmer.

Pull the mussels out of their shells (I use my fingers, don’t worry if they try to stick to the shells and look like sad little creatures) and add them to the soup. Add a little of the mussel water from their pan. Once you’ve ladled it into bowls, dash cilantro on top of both.

*When you buy the mussels, they give you a plastic bag to take them home in. Keep the bag open so they can breath all the way home. I keep them on ice in a bowl in the fridge, sometimes with a damp towel on top. They can keep that way for a day or two. I scrub them under cold water before putting them in the pan, throwing away any that have opened already. If they’ve opened a little bit, squeeze them and they might close again. If they don’t close, leave them for dead. Sometimes a little hairy bit called a “beard” will peep out of the shell. Pull the beard as far away from the shell as you can, hold it taut, and cut it away with a knife.

 

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