Saffron Mussel Chowder Recipe

Before I tell you how I discovered this amazing soup and how to make it, I’m going to give you a quick vocab lesson.

Billi Bi [BILL-ee BEE] ~ An elegant French soup made with mussels, onions, wine, cream and seasonings. The mussels are strained out of a classic billi bi leaving a smooth and silky soup. However, today it is often served with the mussels. Though there are several stories of the soup’s origin, the most popular is that Maxim’s chef, Louis Barthe, named it after a regular patron who particularly loved the soup, American tin tycoon William B. (Billy B.) Leeds. **

Fumet [fyoo-MAY; foo-MAY] ~ A concentrated stock, particularly one made from fish or mushrooms, used to add flavor to less intensely flavored stocks or sauces. **

I first discovered this particular variation of Billi Bi, or Saffron Mussel Chowder, in a restaurant perched atop the Rocky Mountains in Telluride, Colorado. Never mind the altitude, the lack of oxygen, or the breath taking scenery, I nearly lost my breath with the first spoonful of this rich and decadent soup. Ok, well maybe it was the lack of oxygen after all…..



At any rate, it was my husband who concocted this divine chowder and presented to me for a quick slopeside warm-up in between some killer powder runs. It’s been years since I’ve been treated to a bowl of Billi Bi, so today I insisted he give me a shopping list and teach me how to make it for myself.

With utter delight and a happy tummy, I will now share this easy and satisfying dish.


Print Recipe
Prepping Mussels
  1. Simmering Chowder
  2. Rinse mussels in cold water, drain. Remove beards and any open (or dead) mussels. Set aside.
Making Fumet
  1. In a large skillet, combine mussels, 1 large, thinly sliced shallot, 2 cloves thinly sliced garlic, 2 whole sprigs fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 cup water and 1 cup white wine. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, or until mussels pop partially open.
  2. Remove mussels from broth, remove from shells and set meat aside on cooling racks. Reduce heat to medium low and steep shallots for another 10-15 minutes. Strain liquid and set aside.
Making Chowder
  1. In a 5-quart stock pot, combine diced onion, diced shallots, diced garlic, 1 TB stemmed & chopped fresh thyme, and 3 TB butter. Sweat ingredients over low heat until shallots and onion are soft and translucent. Stir in 2 TB flour, add potatoes, reserved fumet, and enough water to cover potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add mussels, heavy cream, 1/2 tsp. salt and 2 generous pinches of saffron. Cook at a simmer until potatoes are cooked.
Recipe Notes

NOTE: If the mussels are fully open or falling out of their shells, they have been overcooked and will be rubbery. Cook mussels until they are slightly open and it looks like you'll need to pry them further to remove the meat.

NOTE: If you would like a stronger fish flavor, consider adding 1 teaspoon Vietnamese fish sauce to the fumet.


** excerpt from Food Lover's Companion - Sharon Tyler Herbst

Share this Recipe