This is a traditional dish of mussels cooked with shallots, garlic, and saffron from the west Atlantic coast of France. It tastes as superb as it looks.

  • 2 kg / 4½ fresh mussels, scrubbed and bearded
  • 250 g / 9 oz shallots, finely chopped
  • 300 ml / ½ pint / 1¼ cups medium white wine, such as Vouvray
  • generous pinch of saffron threads (about 12 strands)
  • 75 g / 3 oz / 6 tbsp butter
  • 2 celery sticks, finely chopped
  • 5 ml / 1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 250 ml / 8 fl oz / 1 cup fish or stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 large (US extra large) egg yolks
  • 150 ml / ¼ pint / ⅔ cup double (heavy) cream
  • juice of ½-1 lemon
  • 30-45 ml / 2-3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and ground black pepper
  1. Discard any mussels that do not shut when tapped sharply.
  2. Place 30 ml / 2 tbsp of the shallots with the wine in a wide pan and bring to the boil. Add half the mussels and cover, then boil rapidly for 1 minute, shaking the pan once. Remove all the mussels, discarding any that remain closed. Repeat with the remaining mussels. Remove the top half-shell from each mussel. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve into a bowl and stir in the saffron, then set aside.
  3. Melt 50 g / 2 oz / 4 tbsp of the butter in a heavy pan. Add the remaining shallots and celery and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add the fennel seeds and half of the garlic, then cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  4. Pour in the reserved mussel liquid, bring to the boil, and then simmer for 5 minutes before adding the stock, bay leaf, and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then simmer, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Beat the egg yolks with the cream, then whisk in a ladleful of the hot liquid followed by the juice of ½ lemon. Whisk this mixture back into the sauce. Cook over a very low heat, without allowing it to boil, for 5-10 minutes until slightly thickened. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon juice if necessary.
  6. Stir the remaining garlic, butter, and most of the parsley into the sauce with the mussels and reheat for 30-60 seconds. Distribute the mussels among six soup plates and ladle the sauce over. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and serve.