Soupe de Moules (and ‘Les Guinguettes du bord de Marne)

This wonderful subtly flavoured soup has never failed to impress, quick and simple to make, it adds a touch of sophistication to any meal.


It was only a matter of time before ‘moules’ came onto the scene.

The very mention of  ‘moules frites’ conjures up images of sitting at a breezy seafront café in Brittany washing down ‘moulesmarinière’ and crispy French fries with a glass of Bretton cider.

Moules frites are very popular close to where I live in the south/eastern suberbs of Paris at ‘Les Guinguettes du bord de Marne’

‘Les Guinguettes’ began life as the 17th century equivalent of  ‘The wine bar’  Created by Parisian wine producers (vignobles) to sell their produce in the small towns and villages surrounding the city, in those days this included ‘Montmartre’ and ‘Belleville’ to avoid paying Parisian taxes.

At around 1860 these villages had been annexed by the capital, so these establishments began to emerge a little further from the city on the banks of the river Marne.

Gradually over time, they developed from being mere ‘wine bars’ to places where people could come to eat, drink and with the introduction of the accordion in Paris, by Italian immigrants in the first half of the 20th century, to dance also!


Renoir’s image of Les Guiguettes

Workers would go to the guinguettes on their Sunday afternoon off  ‘et voila’ a tradition was born with mussels being one of the popular dishes on the menu.

They are still there today, with waiters strutting around in tight black trousers and stripy Bretton tea-shirts with little black waist-coats and red neckerchiefs, like something straight out of a Toulouse Lautrec Lithograph!


Les guinguettes today

I, however am not going to treat you to a recipe for ‘moulesmarinière’ (Moules au curry will be featured later)

I am going to treat you to my delicious ‘soupe de moules’ that I served for French dinner guests last Saturday, and I they were impressd that ‘une petite anglaise’ like me could pull off such a dish!

So dig out your stripy tea shirt, put on some accordion music and transport yourself to turn of the century Paris……………


Enjoying the unique atmosphere of Les guinguettes

Allergy alert! Check that none of your guests are allergic to mussels, if they are, or simply do not like them, then chestnut mushrooms quartered and sautéd in butter make an acceptable alternative

Serves 4 as a starter

30g salted butter

2 medium shallots very finely sliced

1 large clove of garlic very finely chopped

1 level tablespoon *2 cuiliers de soupe) of corn flour (farine de maise)

2 teaspoons (cuillers de café) of ‘Rouille’*

¾  pint (450ml) dry white wine

1 ½ pints of vegetable Bouillion *

¼ pint (20cl) double cream

A generous pinch of saffron

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste

6 – 8 mussels per person depending on size – see instructions for preparing fresh mussels at the end of the recipe.

(you can use frozen/ ready prepared if you are scared about cooking mussels, but defrost/cook thouroughly according to instructions before adding to the soup and reduce the amount of dry white wine to ¼ pint)

Flat leaf parsley to garnish  (alternatively the feather tips from a fennel bulb add colour and a slightly aniseed flavour that works quite well)

*Rouille is a fish essence that comes in a smooth mustard/light orange coloured paste and can be bought in most UK supermarkets.

This is where the ‘franglais’ element comes in, as the true French recipes use fish stock instead of the rouille and vegetable bouillion.

I find the fish stock just too ‘fishy’! and that the vegetable bouillion and rouille mix gives a lighter more subtle flavour. Plus the rouille has a hint of heat to it, just enough to give a little kick to the soup without being obviously spicy.


Melt the butter in a large saucepan and gently sauté the shallots for 2-3 minutes until softened, taking cer not to brown.

Add the garlic and cook for a further minute

Remove from the heat and add the corn flour to form a thick paste

Loosen the paste with a tablespoon (2 cuillers de soupe)of stock into a semi liquid paste and blend in the rouille

Using a hand whisk (fouet) add the rest the stock(and the wine if using frozen/ready prepared mussels or mushrooms, if using fresh mussels see below), until the soup is smooth and lump free.

Cover and simmer for around 20 mns, until it has lost its ‘floury’ taste.

Add the saffron and season as required with the salt and pepper

Prepare the mussels (or mushrooms if using as an alternative)

Serve the dish in pre warmed shallow soup bowls and decorate with 6-8 mussels per person and a sprinkle of flat leaved parsley

Serve immediately – sublime………….

Preparing fresh mussels

Rinse the 10-12 mussels per person (to allow for wastage) under running water in a large colander

Bring ¾ pint of dry white wine to the boil in a large saucepan over a high heat.

Add the mussels and cook for around 6 minutes until they are completely open.

Discard any mussels which do not open.

Drain the mussels in a colander, reserving the wine liquid.

Pass the liquid through a fine sieve (passoire) into the soup

When the mussels have cooled a little, remove them from their shells and use immediately.

Another cultural faux pas that I committed when I first served soup to my French partner, was to serve it with a nice crusty roll – quellehorreur!

By the look on his face, I knew that I had offended his Parisian sensibilities.  When I asked do they not serve bread with soup in France he replied ‘Yes……….in the country’ Meaning that this was a bit ‘provincial’ to say the least!

(more coming up on ‘table manners’ later)


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