Billi Bi Soup

`Billi Bi's origins can be traced to an American, William Bateman Leeds, a celebrated gourmand who was a particular fan of French chef Louis Barthe, who worked both at Maxim's in Paris and Ciro's in Deauville, in Normandy.

Leeds was a great fan of mussels, especially those in a particular sauce prepared by Chef Barthe, which Leeds would unceremoniously slurp with a mussel shell.

One day the American was having a dinner party and wanted to show off the mussel dish, but in a more dignified fashion. He asked the chef to come up with a similar recipe. The result was a cream of mussel soup that the delighted guests dubbed ``Billi B's Soup'', which later became ``Billi Bi,'' writes Pierre Franey in his book ``A Chef's Tale.'' `

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons chopped shallots

4 tablespoons chopped onions

2 sprigs thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

4 sprigs parsley

Freshly ground pepper to taste

8-ounce bottle clam juice

2 quarts mussels, scrubbed and debearded

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup half-and-half

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley, optional

Croutons, optional

Put butter, shallots, onions, thyme, bay leaf, parsley sprigs, pepper and clam juice in a deep kettle. Cover, bring to a boil, and add mussels. Cover and bring to a boil again, and simmer for 5 minutes, shaking and tossing mussels in kettle to redistribute them. Cook mussels only until they open.

Remove mussel meats, and discard shells. Keep mussels warm.

Strain cooking liquid through a cheesecloth. Rinse kettle to remove any grit, and return liquid to the kettle.

Blend creams and yolk well and add them to mussel liquid. Warm through but make certain the soup does not boil. Taste, and add salt and additional ground pepper if necessary. Add mussels just to heat through. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve with croutons, if desired. Serves 6 to 8.

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