The only time I had Billi Bi was many years ago at Le Refuge, a French Restaurant in Old Town, Alexandria. It was a rich dish, redolent of saffron and, clearly, thickened with egg yolk. I loved it. Not so much the veal kidneys that completed the meal.
This recipe for Billy By is a far cry from the mussel soup I had long ago. Yes, it IS delicious. Maybe even more so. And it is rich because it has cream (although I have cut the cream in half from the original recipe). But it is not cloying, and since I only served two, I had enough of the broth left over that I thought about poaching shrimp in it the next day. I imagine it would also be good for braising rice.
I didn't serve any crackers with it, but they would have been welcome. What I most wanted to eat with it were Pepperidge Farm Goldfish - but they are like potato chips - too dangerous for me to have in the house. This is a recipe for homemade goldfish crackers from Smitten Kitchen I have long wanted to try. Now I really have a reason to go for it.
According to Francis Lam, "They're cheap, they're tasty, they are actually good for the environment, and they're infinitely variable."
Keep mussels in the refrigerator for no more than two days. Do not store them in water because fresh water will kill them. When you are ready to cook, put them in a large bowl, add plenty of water, swish around, and drain. Do this about three times. Then wash them quickly, using a cloth on the shells. They aren't gritty like clams so this should be easy. If any have a "beard," pull on it to extend it out from the shell as far as you can, and snip it off with kitchen shears. That's it; you're ready to go.
Cream of Mussel Soup
Potage Billy By
Adapted from The Art of Eating Cookbook by Edward Behr
1 large onion or 2 shallots, chopped
1 stalk celery, peeled and chopped
3 or 4 branches fresh parsley
1/3 bay leaf
3 or 4 branches fresh thyme
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
2 pounds mussels, cleaned
1 cup heavy cream (the original recipe calls for 2 cups of cream)
A lemon to juice
Salt, only if necessary
Put the white wine in a pot large enough to contain all the mussels. Add the onion, celery, parsley, bay leaf, and thyme. Turn the heat to medium, and cook gently (you don't want to boil away the wine) until the onion and celery are soft, five to ten minutes.
Raise the heat to high, add the cleaned mussels, and cover the pot tightly. It will take from 2 to 8 minutes for the mussels to open. After 2 minutes, stir the mussels, and start removing the open ones (with their shells) when half have opened so the open ones don't overcook while the rest are opening. After 8 minutes, discard any mussels that have remained unopened. Once all the mussels are open and removed from the pot, take the cooked mussels from their shells, and set aside.
Strain the broth. A fine metal strainer should do the job, but if the broth has any grit left in it, strain it again through a cloth-lined strainer or a coffee filter.
Wash the pot or use a smaller clean one, and put the strained broth in it. Bring the broth to a boil, add the cream, and bring back to a boil, stirring. Let it cook for 2 to 3 minutes to thicken just a little, then add the shelled mussels, and heat them through for about 30 seconds. At this point, you do not want to overcook them.
Add black pepper and a little lemon juice. Start with about a teaspoon of lemon juice, and add another teaspoon if that's not enough to brighten the taste. Serve immediately.